Chud just might be the right guy . . . finally
Watching Rob Chudzinski at the news conference announcing his appointment as the Browns’ new head coach, one thing became abundantly clear.
The man was really, truly, honest-to-goodness thrilled to be sitting where he was at the time, listening to the words of his new boss.
“. . . and I believe we came back with the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format we want to have here in Cleveland and we all expect to have,” said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III.
The pride showed on Chudzinski’s countenance as he sat there between Haslam and club CEO Joe Banner late last week. It looked as though he wanted one of them to pinch him to make certain this was all really happening.
If you’ve ever wished for something big and ultra important in your life and then got it, you know exactly what coursed through Chudzinski as he faced the media. The smile on his face did not belie the inner joy and pride he must have felt.
After listening to the new coach field a variety of questions, there was no doubt whatsoever this sad-sack team is finally getting a head coach who gets it, who lived it, who knows what it’s like to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns.
Anyone who can recall what he did as a little kid growing up in Toledo, living and dying with a Browns team of a different era, pretending he’s Ozzie Newsome or Brian Sipe, gets it.
Chudzinski knows what it feels like to be a Browns fan. He knows the hurt of a tough loss, the exhilaration of a big victory. He knows the colors Burnt Orange and Seal Brown are special. So is the logoless helmet.
Eric Mangini can have his “but it’s the Cleveland Browns, mom” moments. That’s not nearly the same as this. Mangini said he got it. No he didn’t. He never did.
Chris Palmer, Butch Davis Romeo Crennel and Pat Shurmur, who all preceded Chudzinski, never got it, either. All they wanted was a chance to be a National Football League head coach. Didn’t matter where.
To Chudzinski, Cleveland matters. That not only gives him a leg up on the job that lies ahead, his genuineness gives him style points in the eyes of many fans.
However, style points do not win football games. And the odds of this man calling all the shots for the first time in his career and being successful are bigger than one would think.
The success rate for first-time head coaches who were coordinators in the NFL is rather low. The Mike Tomlins, Andy Reids and John Harbaughs are the exceptions. The landscape is littered with failures as the Browns know all too well.
Is Chudzinski a popular choice? No. His name popped out from virtually nowhere. The Browns were the first team to contact him this season and they did so almost as an afterthought. Despite Haslam’s protestations, he wasn’t their first choice.
The Browns’ spin, naturally, suggested he was their man all along even though the team’s interview list might have reached double figures. By the time Chudzinski appeared on their radar, all the high profile guys were either back in college and snapped up.
Haslam said his first coaching hire “was always on our radar screen.” That’s so easy to say in hindsight. Consider it nothing more than rhetorical blather because only the sycophants buy it.
Here’s another from Haslam: “We did not have one person in mind as the favorite.” Tell that to University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly who, if you believe the reports, could have written his own check if he had said yes to Haslam and Banner.
Because Chudzinski was not the first, or even the fourth, choice, that doesn’t necessarily make him the wrong choice. There is something about him that says of all his predecessors with the Browns, except perhaps Davis, he’s got a good shot to live up to Haslam’s expectations.
Chudzinski is inheriting a nice player core, especially on offense, which is his specialty. He indicated he would adapt to his personnel, not vice-versa, something that got the stubborn Shurmur fired well before the end of his contract.
What works in the new coach’s favor, though, is his preference for a vertical downfield passing game that is much better suited for the Browns. The days of making quarterback Brandon Weeden play with a west coast bent are over.
If there is anyone who can maximize Weeden’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses, it’s Chudzinski. Ample proof of that is what he did as offensive coordinator down in Carolina with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. In two seasons, Newton passed for nearly 8,000 yards, ran for another 1,450 and accounted for 67 touchdowns, 40 with his arm.
Chudzinski put him in a position that gave the Panthers the best chance to win games. Instead being forced to play in a pro set from under center, Newton was given an offense similar to the one he played in at Auburn and flourished in his first two NFL seasons.
That’s not to say Weeden can duplicate Newton’s feats. But you can look for him to return to his Oklahoma State shotgun days and unfurl his strong arm that seems perfectly suited for his new coach’s style of play.
Chudzinski applied the perfect adjective for the kind of football Browns fans can expect and have yearned for all these years: aggressive. Football, by its very nature, is an aggressive sport. And the new coach has promised we’ll see it on both sides of the ball.
Attacking teams usually are teams that wind up winning a majority of games. How many times have we seen with the last three Cleveland coaches a passive, almost play-not-to-lose mentality? Correct answer: Too many. That’s got to stop. If you’re going to lose, you might as well go down fighting.
Another aspect of coaching that has been missing for the last dozen or so years with the Browns is attention to detail. “We’re going to focus on critical situations in a game,” Chudzinski said, adding fundamentals will be stressed.
OK, all coaches say that. And you can bet a lot of people will be watching closely to make certain he keeps those promises. If not, it’ll be back to the square one for Haslam and Banner.
Somehow, this glass-half-empty thinker sees something in Chudzinski that wasn’t there with the likes of Crennel, Mangini and Shurmur. Maybe it’s the Browns fan growing up background. He might not be a Clevelander, but inside him beats the heart of a Browns fan.
For the first time in the last several years, since 2007 when he was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator, I feel somewhat sanguine that, even though Chudzinski was far from their top choice, Haslam and Banner have made the correct choice.