Browns fire defensive coordinator Joe Woods after 3 seasons


By TOM WITHERS - AP Sports Writer



FILE - Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods walks on the field after an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Cleveland. The Cleveland Browns fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023,  after his underperforming group had a major hand in this season ending way short of expectations or the playoffs, a person familiar with the move told the Associated Press.(AP Photo/David Richard, File)

FILE - Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods walks on the field after an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Cleveland. The Cleveland Browns fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, after his underperforming group had a major hand in this season ending way short of expectations or the playoffs, a person familiar with the move told the Associated Press.(AP Photo/David Richard, File)


FILE - Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods celebrates a sack during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Criticized all season for a unit that underperformed, dealt with injuries and didn't always complement Cleveland's offense, Woods said Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, he wants to come back next season. “I hope I get the opportunity, but that’s not my decision,” said Woods, one of Kevin Stefanski's first hires three seasons ago. (AP Photo/David Richard, File)


BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Joe Woods took the fall for the Cleveland Browns falling flat again.

Cleveland fired its embattled defensive coordinator on Monday as his group’s communication issues and inability to stop the run had a major role in the Browns finishing 7-10 and missing the playoffs for the second straight season.

The 52-year-old Woods was one of Kevin Stefanski’s first hires in 2020. Cleveland’s defense had trouble from the opener, leading to the Browns’ 17th double-digit loss season since the franchise’s expansion rebirth in 1999.

Stefanski, who was widely criticized for his play-calling, was spared in a season shaped by quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 11-game NFL suspension.

“I’d like to thank Joe for his hard work and dedication in his three seasons as our defensive coordinator,” Stefanski said. “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.”

The Browns moved quickly at finding a replacement, requesting permission to interview New England linebackers coach Jerod Mayo for the vacancy. The 36-year-old Mayo played eight seasons with the Patriots before retiring after the 2015 season.

Woods was under fire all season and he sensed his dismissal last week, telling reporters, “I hope I get to talk to you guys again,” as he left his weekly news conference.

With Woods in charge, Cleveland’s defense, though talented on paper, didn’t produce.

The Browns were especially vulnerable to the run, getting gashed for big plays on the ground nearly every week as teams turned to a proven formula.

Woods never ducked responsibility or made excuses despite a rash of injuries, most notably at middle linebacker.

Starters Anthony Walker Jr., Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jacob Phillips and Sione Takitaki all sustained season-ending injuries, forcing Woods to play inexperienced linebackers and general manager Andrew Berry to bring in outside help.

The Browns’ pass defense collapsed late in a Week 2 loss to the New York Jets, who rallied from 13 points down in the final two minutes.

The problem resurfaced in Sunday’s 28-14 loss at Pittsburgh as Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Picket threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open George Pickens with Cleveland’s defensive backs confused on coverage.

Woods also had to deal with star defensive end Myles Garrett playing hurt for much of the season with a sprained shoulder suffered in a September car crash. Woods’ final week included defensive end Jadeveon Clowney being sent home after he criticized the organization and coaching staff.

Clowney was inactive for the finale and didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh.

Cleveland’s defense improved some during the season’s second half, but there wasn’t enough growth to save Woods.

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FILE – Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods walks on the field after an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Cleveland. The Cleveland Browns fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, after his underperforming group had a major hand in this season ending way short of expectations or the playoffs, a person familiar with the move told the Associated Press.(AP Photo/David Richard, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2023/01/web1_130490039-e3ca4aaeb4db4d8aa696e69a30119ea7.jpgFILE – Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods walks on the field after an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Cleveland. The Cleveland Browns fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, after his underperforming group had a major hand in this season ending way short of expectations or the playoffs, a person familiar with the move told the Associated Press.(AP Photo/David Richard, File)

FILE – Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods celebrates a sack during the second half of the team’s NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Criticized all season for a unit that underperformed, dealt with injuries and didn’t always complement Cleveland’s offense, Woods said Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, he wants to come back next season. “I hope I get the opportunity, but that’s not my decision,” said Woods, one of Kevin Stefanski’s first hires three seasons ago. (AP Photo/David Richard, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2023/01/web1_130490039-28c22afa30bf41eebc6903d5d3871385.jpgFILE – Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods celebrates a sack during the second half of the team’s NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Criticized all season for a unit that underperformed, dealt with injuries and didn’t always complement Cleveland’s offense, Woods said Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, he wants to come back next season. “I hope I get the opportunity, but that’s not my decision,” said Woods, one of Kevin Stefanski’s first hires three seasons ago. (AP Photo/David Richard, File)

By TOM WITHERS

AP Sports Writer