The writing was on the wall for a long while and less than 24 hours after the season set on the Cleveland Browns, it was also online in a formal statement of termination.
The Browns on Monday, January 9, fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods after three years with the team. Head coach Kevin Stefanski announced the decision via the team’s official Twitter account.
“I’d like to thank Joe for his hard work and dedication in his three seasons as our defensive coordinator,” Stefanski wrote. “I will always have the utmost respect for Joe, the person and the coach. Unfortunately, we didn’t perform up to our standards enough this season, and we all share in that responsibility. We all wish Joe and his family the best in the future.”
Woods came to Cleveland in 2020 with Stefanski the year the team hired its current head coach. The career paths of Stefanski and Woods first crossed in 2006 with the Minnesota Vikings. Woods served as the defensive backs coach there for eight years until 2013. Stefanski was an offensive assistant with the team for that same eight-year stretch.
Woods had served as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos the two seasons prior to reuniting with Stefanski on the Browns coaching staff three years ago.
Woods’ Job Security With Browns Was in Question For Months
Woods’ departure came following the Browns’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18, capping off a disappointing 7-10 record on the year that landed Cleveland in last place in the AFC North Division. But the problems on defense started long before that.
The first calls for Woods’ job picked up steam in October after a stretch that included a collapse in Week 2 against the New York Jets, in which the Browns surrendered a 13-point lead with less than two minutes to play, and a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5, in which Cleveland allowed 238 rushing yards. The Browns surrendered 125 points through those first five contests, an average of 25 points per game for opposing offenses.
At the time, Woods spoke confidently about his status with the team.
I mean, each year is a different challenge and I promise everybody, we’re trying to do everything we can. Okay, right now it’s not going well in terms of the consistency. In stretches we’re doing things, but I don’t worry about it. You can’t, and I’ve been around in my coaching career, just different people that maybe they listened to it more, and I’ve seen what it’s done to them. I just believe in what I’m doing.
I believe in the coaches that I have around me, just because of the stuff that we’ve done. I believe in the players. And I just feel like if we all work together to correct the issues that we’ll get it headed in the right direction.
Woods Scapegoat For Browns’ Struggles, Stefanski’s Seat Growing Warmer
While Stefanski noted that the entire staff is responsible for the team’s defensive failures — the Browns were 25th in the league against the run and 14th in overall defense in 2022, per NFL.com — it was Woods who shouldered the brunt of the blame via his firing Monday.
However, Stefanski is in some hot water himself. The head coach is 26-24 across three seasons in Cleveland and has made the playoffs only once. He was on board with the controversial move to sign quarterback Deshaun Watson, who the NFL suspended for the first 11 games of the year and who has struggled since returning to the field. Stefanski has also presided over a staff that was criticized heavily and publicly by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney earlier this week.
Stefanski’s play calling came into question from both fans and media members following the team’s 17-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Christmas Eve, which officially eliminated the Browns from playoff contention.
“Just obviously each time trying to put our guys in position. Couple of times you had the wind, you are trying to throw possession throws,” Stefanski said in defense of his decisions. “Felt like there were some opportunities both in the run and the pass. We just didn’t come through.”
Stefanski, who has spent the majority of his career working with quarterbacks, is going to get a chance with a fresh Watson in 2023. But Browns management is liable to only afford Stefanski so much rope before the head coach starts dealing with the kind of pressure his defensive coordinator faced this season.