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Browns Send Palmer Packing

Despite five shutouts, 27 losses and being outscored by 478 points in two years, Chris Palmer truly believed he and the Cleveland Browns were headed in the right direction.

His boss disagreed.

Palmer was fired Thursday as coach of the Browns after winning only five games in two turbulent seasons since he was selected to lead Cleveland back into the NFL.

"We do have a problem. We are not on the right track," Browns president Carmen Policy said. "It's my belief our players are not buying into the program. They didn't point fingers at the coach, but they are not sold on the project.

"I don't believe he lost the team, but they lost faith in his ability to take them to the promised land. It's not the way we wanted things to go."

The Browns went 2-14 and 3-13 under Palmer, who didn't have any pro head coaching experience when the Browns hired him to lead their rebirth in the league as an expansion team in '99.

But the club didn't live up to high expectations in its first year, and finished the season ranked last statistically in total offense and defense. In 2000, injuries to key players stifled the Browns from getting any better.

"It's a tough business," said quarterback Tim Couch, who missed nine games with a broken thumb. "It's probably not fair, but you're judged by wins and losses in this league."

Policy, who guaranteed Palmer's job was safe for at least another year in November, said the decision to reverse direction was made after a series of postseason meetings. Guaranteeing Palmer's job was "a mistake," Policy said.

The team president said Palmer felt his system would eventually work, and blamed a lack of talent and a rash of injuries on the team's poor record.

But Policy saw it differently. He began to have doubts about Palmer's future midway through this season and came to a decision a change had to be made when Palmer insisted things were OK.

"He and I got to the point in the last few weeks where we were on a different page in terms of getting something resolved," Policy said. "I didn't feel we could be as a team, as one, and move forward. And if we couldn't be together I saw no chance for success. ... We're in a business of winning, and that's the way it is."

Palmer met with Policy and team owner Al Lerner for three hours on Dec. 21 and had another lengthy meeting with them Wednesday, but the results could not save Palmer's job.

He was informed of his dismissal during a 10-minute meeting with Policy on Thursday morning.

"I would like to thank the Cleveland Browns for the opportunity to coac here the last two seasons," Palmer said in a statement released through the team. "I am sorry that it did not work out."

Policy indicated Palmer would be paid for the remaining three years of his contract, and said Lerner wanted to go beyond the terms of the deal to compensate the former coach.

Policy said Lerner, who was not present at the news conference, preferred to have Palmer back for a third season. But Policy saw bigger problems and knew the decision to fire Palmer would get a mixed reaction from Browns fans.

"A good guy wasn't able to accomplish a goal we all bought in to," Policy said. "My opinion is more time would have made matters worse and would have set this organization back more than just one year."

Palmer, Jacksonville's offensive coordinator before joining the Browns, could wind up on Dick Jauron's staff in Chicago. Jauron, an assistant with Palmer for the Jaguars, is looking for someone to run the Bears' offense.

"I intend to speak with Chris this evening and if he expresses interest in our offensive coordinator position, I will add him to our list," Jauron said.

Policy's misgivings about Palmer grew after the Browns were beaten 44-7 in Week 13 by Baltimore and 48-0 a week later at Jacksonville.

Palmer's future became even cloudier when a meeting between Policy and Miami coach Butch Davis was reported. Speculation grew when the club was slow in denying the meeting and by the Browns' unusual silence in recent days.

Policy has denied any meeting with Davis was ever scheduled, and said the Browns would immediately begin searching for a new coach.

"I want a coach who can come into Cleveland, analyze our talent and implement a system that gets the most out of the players we have," Policy said. "We're looking for a smart, aggressive, knowledgeable coach who is able to display leadership."

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel would be interviewed for the job, said Policy who ideally hopes to have a coach in place by the Super Bowl.

Among potential candidates for the job are New Orleans offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, Tampa Bay assistant head coach Herman Edwards, Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and New York Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton.

From the college ranks, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops may also interest Policy. Both are Youngstown, Ohio, natives and one of Policy's sons played for Stoops' father, Ron Sr., in high school.

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