CLEVELAND — The Browns changed uniforms to start the season and their coach and general manager to end it.
Hours after a 28-12 loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the season finale, owner Jimmy Haslam fired coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer following their second straight losing season in charge.
It’s almost a tradition.
Pettine went 3-13 this season and 10-22 in two years, dropping 18 of his final 21 games after a promising 7-4 start in 2014. Pettine’s job security had been in doubt for months, and not even Haslam’s vow at the start of training camp not to "blow things up" could stop another regime change in Cleveland.
Pettine was the team’s seventh full-time coach since 1999, and the team has changed coaches and GMs five times since 2008.
"I don’t think any of us anticipated going 3-13," said Haslam, who after firing Pettine returned from the team’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio, to FirstEnergy Stadium to speak to the media. "I certainly didn’t and I don’t think anybody in our building did. Mike and Ray understand. They understand it’s a bottom-line business and you’re paid to win games, and losing 18 of 21 is not acceptable. They get that and they understand that and they’re first-class guys. I hate it for them and obviously hate it for us."
A former defensive co-ordinator, Pettine’s ouster can be partly linked to the performance of his defence, which ranked at or near the bottom in the league in nearly every statistical category. He’s the fifth Cleveland coach in eight years to lose his job following a season-ending loss to the Steelers.
Haslam said the team will begin an immediate search for its eighth full-time coach of the expansion era. The Browns have hired Korn Ferry, an executive search firm, to assist with a quest that’s been as perplexing for Cleveland’s front office as the one for a franchise quarterback.
"We want to get the right person," Haslam said. "I don’t know if it’s going to take two weeks or two months."
Haslam’s already fired three coaches and three GMs since buying the team from Randy Lerner in 2012.
"The blame for the franchise doing so poorly lays right here with me, because at the end of the day it’s our job to put the right people in the right place and provide them with the resources," Haslam said. "I think we’ve done the latter. But the fact in the two full seasons we’ve owned the team we’ve won seven games and three games is unacceptable. We accept full responsibility for that. This has been much harder than we thought it would be, and there’s a definite learning curve. I think we’ve found in life you often learn the hard way, and this has certainly been an example of this."
Potential candidates include Chicago offensive co-ordinator Andrew Gase, Cincinnati offensive co-ordinator Hue Jackson, Carolina defensive co-ordinator Sean McDermott, former Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, and former Buffalo coach Doug Marrone, now an assistant in Jacksonville.
Once the Browns have their new coach, the plan is to hire a GM. Haslam said Sashi Brown has been promoted to vice-president of football operations and will have control over personnel decisions and the 53-man roster.
Haslam still believes the Browns are attractive to quality candidates and downplayed the idea the team needs to make a "splash" with its coaching hire.
Following Sunday’s game, the 50-year-old Pettine said he understood change was looming — and inevitable.
"It should be a topic of speculation, given what our results have been," Pettine told reporters. "It is a bottom-line business and you guys don’t have a column in the newspaper for moral victories. Our record is that we have won three of our last 21 games. That is just not good enough."
It hasn’t helped that the Browns lacked talent, especially offensive playmakers and that’s partly Farmer’s fault.
The Browns have whiffed on high draft picks, wasted money on a defence that showed little improvement, and remain at the bottom of one of the NFL’s toughest divisions.
Farmer, too, was suspended for the first four games this season for texting to the sideline during 2014 games.
One of his biggest mistakes over the past two years appears to be drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner hasn’t lived up to expectations on the field and continues to be a headache off it. He spent 73 days in a rehab facility during the off-season, got benched by Pettine for two games during the year for misbehaviour and missed Sunday’s game with a concussion. While his teammates finished the season, Manziel was reportedly in Las Vegas.
Haslam wouldn’t comment directly on Manziel’s whereabouts or his future in Cleveland. He did say the 23-year-old failed to report to the team’s facility on Sunday for treatment.