BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns have another gaping hole to fix on defense.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, once considered a possible successor to coach Romeo Crennel, was unexpectedly fired Friday after Cleveland's defense finished the season as one of the NFL's worst units.
Grantham's dismissal was a surprise because it came just months after the fiery 41-year-old signed a two-year contract extension. It also followed Cleveland's turnaround 10-6 season, which ended just shy of the AFC playoffs.
But Grantham's stock steadily plummeted as the Browns' defense struggled almost the entire season before ending up ranked 30th overall. The Browns apparently felt Grantham wasn't getting the most from his players and decided to part ways.
The team put out a short statement announcing that Grantham "will not be retained for the 2008 season."
"Todd has worked extremely hard during his three seasons with the Browns," Crennel said in a statement. "Following our discussions after the season, it was decided that it was in the best interests of the organization to move in a different direction."
He said a decision "will be forthcoming" on a replacement for Grantham, who was a finalist for Michigan State's job last year.
Crennel, who won three Super Bowl titles as New England's defensive coordinator, was direct about his disappointment with the Browns' defense all season. He may decide to take on a more hands-on approach with Cleveland's defense next season and mentor Tucker in the process.
Grantham's third season with the Browns was worse than his first two, when his unit managed to keep Cleveland in games despite a shaky offense.
In 2007, Cleveland's defense gave up 382 points and allowed 359.6 yards per game -- both increases from '06. The Browns were a one-sided team, with an explosive, score-from-anywhere offense and a defense that at its best was mediocre.
Last season, the Browns' defense ranked 15th in pass defense despite numerous injuries to their secondary. In his first season, Grantham helped Crennel break in a new 3-4 scheme and the Browns finished first in the AFC in red-zone defense, fourth in the league in pass defense and tied for 16th overall.
But despite an upgrade in personnel through free agency and the draft, the Browns' defense never improved at stopping the run during Grantham's tenure. Cleveland ranked 30th against the run in 2005, 29th in 2006 and 27th this season.
Grantham was Houston's defensive line coach before he was hired by the Browns. He was Indianapolis' defensive line coach from 1999-2001.
Earlier this week, Browns general manager Phil Savage said the club would begin talks with Crennel's agent, Joe Linta, about a contract extension for the coach, who is 20-28 in three seasons with Cleveland.
Also, the Browns rewarded offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski with a two-year extension through the 2011 season.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press