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Reporter asks Browns owner Haslam if team is run by 'three stooges'

By Mike Singer | CBSSports.com

It was an uncomfortable day for Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. (USATSI)

Judging by the Browns' second-half collapse followed by yesterday's head coaching news, it may have been a fair comparison.

Speaking to the media one day after firing first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner were asked, poignantly, “Can you assure the fans that you don't have the three stooges running this operation?”

A local TV reporter asked the question after he had recited some of the fans' piercing reactions following Chudzinski's dismissal. He was referring to Haslam, Banner and GM Mike Lombardi, who has curiously been absent at press conferences this season, including Monday's.

It was the most blatant attack on the Browns' front office that handpicked Chudzinski last year, sold him as their guy and an intriguing young football mind, and then abandoned him after injuries decimated the Browns' year. Not to mention, one of the Browns' integral offensive pieces was traded early in the season (Trent Richardson) for draft picks, leaving a gaping hole in Cleveland's backfield. Still, the team, which declined to use all of its cap space, abandoned ship.

The team does however owe the departing Chudzinski $10.5 million, on top of having to reset the organization, again.

Just last month, with the Browns at 4-5, Haslam said: “I'd be hard-pressed to think that in nine weeks, a first time head coach can do any better or any more than he's doing,” he said on Nov. 13. “All of the measurables that you'd look to come up with, if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment, I just think he's doing an outstanding job.”

So what gave?

“As the season developed, it was our feeling that as a team, we were not getting better,” Haslam said. The Browns lost 10 of their last 11 games, including six by double-digits.

"We understand why there might be some skepticism. We also understand the importance of getting it right," he said.

"This is the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns. We have lots of room on the cap, we have ten draft picks, and we've gotta hire a new coach," Haslam said. "If we get that right, we'll have a lot of really positive press conferences. If we get that wrong, the responsibility is on us. ... We feel a lot of pressure to get this right, for the franchise, for the city of Cleveland, for our fans."

“We still feel that way [about the importance of continuity]. We understand there are going to be some skeptics. … Candidly, we deserve it,” he added later. Haslam also admitted that a federal probe into an alleged rebate fraud scheme by his company, Pilot Flying J, has been a distraction, which isn't exactly a surprise.

Haslam continued: “It galls me when people write, ‘Same old Browns.' I think the key message needs to be that we're going to work hard to get this right.”

But why would any top coach want to take the reins of a team whose ownership won't stand behind them, especially with a few other vacancies that are way more attractive than Cleveland? Haslam preaches continuity but doesn't practice it. Names such as Josh McDaniels and Broncos OC Adam Gase have already popped up as potential replacements, but why come to a team with such instability?

Nothing quite sums up the Browns' plight as much as this stat.

Good luck to whoever inherits this perpetually underachieving franchise. If you want to see this all-time presser -- you do, trust me -- click here. The stooges question comes at about 11:45, but Haslam's reaction at the 8:45 mark is equally as priceless.

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