Rob Chudzinski knows the Browns -- and knows what the organization has been missing.
By ZAC JACKSON FS Ohio
Rob Chudzinski is not the splash hire that many Browns fans — and probably the team's new owner — were hoping for.
He is considered an innovative offensive mind, and he certainly understands what those Browns fans want. A Toledo, Ohio, native, Chudzinski's first head-coaching gig on any level marks his third stint with the Browns organization.
Ten days into the official search and five days after first choice Chip Kelly decided to stay in his current gig at Oregon, new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner tabbed Chudzinski as their first head coach and the franchise's third since Chudzinski, then the offensive coordinator, left with head coach Romeo Crennel and the rest of the staff following a 4-12 season in 2008.
In addition, it was all but official that recently fired Chargers coach Norv Turner will be Chudzinski's offensive coordinator.
The Browns have lost 11 games or more every season since 2008. A big extension after the 10-win season of 2007, Chudzinski's first of his second stint, meant the Browns were still paying him through 2011.
His main jobs now? Find a quarterback and stop that revolving door.
The two are linked.
Haslam and Banner clearly wanted an offensive coach, and Chudzinski has a history with attacking, high-scoring offenses. Those 2007 Browns were fun to watch, as were the 2009 Chargers when he was associate head coach and the 2011 Panthers, with Chudzinski calling the plays for a team that snapped the ball to then-rookie Cam Newton and let him work.
In Cleveland he takes over a team that had been running the West Coast Offense and has had a different opening-day quarterback every year since 2008. His quarterback for now is Brandon Weeden, who will be a second-year player and turn 30 years old during the 2013 season.
No one has done strange like the Cleveland Browns. Here it comes again, with the hire of a coach who was a very hot prospect last January. In 2012, Newton, Chudzinski and the Panthers offense never really found a groove.
In Chudzinski's perfect world, he'll have enough in Weeden to be able to throw the ball down the field the way he likes to. The logical step, given the situation and Chudzinski's ties, is to bring in Turner as offensive coordinator to help with that.
Weeden has a big arm, and for the first time in Cleveland since the last time Chudzinski was around, it appears he has some weapons to make his job easier. Young receiver Josh Gordon represented a rare, aggressive move in last year's supplemental draft, and Gordon has big-time skills. The Browns drafted a franchise, bulldozing back in Trent Richardson at No. 3 overall last year, and if he's healthy he will be a star.
It's all about timing, and the Browns used first-rounders last year hoping that Richardson and Weeden would stick. Even if the hiring of Chudzinski now is a surprising one, he comes in knowing the situation — and an experienced offensive mind like Turner would not have been available before this year. Gordon was inconsistent but his strong flashes were very strong, and fellow young receiver Greg Little also made strides in 2012.
The defense has some young, talented players, too. With a little better run defense and a little more help from the offense, maybe it won't be on the field so much going forward. The Browns never won more than five games in the three years that Mike Holmgren was collecting paychecks as team president, but then-general manager Tom Heckert brought in some players who could develop into top guys at their respective positions.
Now, it's on Chudzinski to give them a new start, a new charge, to create a new culture. His presentation — from his vision to the staff he'd be able to bring on — apparently sold Haslam and Banner on the fact that the splash will come from points being scored and wins next fall, giving them hope that one of these Januarys the Browns will be busy playing instead of interviewing.
New is good. Maybe being one of their own will help convince Browns fans that Chudzinski will be good, too. He was last seen in Cleveland going down with Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, then just one season removed from the Pro Bowl. Turner was last seen in Cleveland losing to the Browns, 7-6, on a nasty day last November.
Now, they're coming back, together, and with a lot of fixing to be done on just about every level of the organization. At 44, Chudzinski brings both energy and hope that he can win, at least a little at first, and stick around for a while. He'll make impressive assistant coaching hires. He'll energize the locker room.
Stability and a quarterback is what the Browns have been missing, and those are two pretty darn important things. By putting Chudzinski in charge, the people running the newest new Browns hope they'll soon find both.