The coaching search conducted by the Cleveland Browns sure seemed (from the outside at least) … well … complex … at times.
But in the end the Browns may have gotten it right.
Which may be the most amazing thing of all.
Rob Chudzinski is the 14th coach of the Cleveland Browns, and he’s a good coach. A very good coach.
The kid from Toledo who went to St. John’s who grew up rooting for the Browns before taking his talents to Coral Gables to play for “the U” comes full circle.
Chudzinski — everyone calls him “Chud” — is a bright guy who knows the passing game and a guy who has had some good years running offenses. Think Derek Anderson in 2007, think Cam Newton as a rookie, think Newton’s last few games this past season.
Chudzinski has spent the past two years interviewing to be a head coach (with Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Jacksonville last year, but only the Browns this time).
He’s put in his time. He’s ready.
And he can turn out to be a very good hire, because aside from experience he has almost anything a team would want in a coach. He’s young, hard-working, energetic, dedicated and smart. His hiring also will not require a complete re-do of the roster to fit an offense that may or may not work. With Chudzinski, the Browns build on the work done by Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert, albeit with a slightly different system.
This has a real possibility of turning out to be a good hire.
And for the Browns it could turn out well despite the fact they tripped all over themselves in making the hire. But that’s not Chudzinski’s fault and should not be held against him. Nor should the fact that the Browns shot high and at college guys and missed be a reason to doubt him. Nor should the fact that the Browns fired an inexperienced former offensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach to hire another.
None of those have a thing to do with the new coach.
But clearly Chudzinski was not in the Browns top tier, not originally at least. Owner Jimmy Haslam said “strong leadership” was his first criteria, and to find that he went after some big-name college guys — Nick Saban of Alabama, Doug Marrone of Syracuse, Bill O’Brien of Penn State and, eventually, went all in with Chip Kelly of Oregon.
When Kelly waffled the Browns pulled out, and said they did because they weren’t convinced Kelly wanted to be in the NFL.
Which of course was something they didn’t learn in a seven-hour interview.
The others either used the interview for a raise (O’Brien), went elsewhere (Marrone) or were not leaving (Saban). Chudzinski was in the next tier of NFL types interviewed — along with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The Browns chose Chudzinski.
There are normal concerns. There’s already talk the Browns will switch the defense to a three-four, which seems to be fitting the proverbial round peg in the hexagonal hole given the team is built for a four-three, with a passel of defensive linemen. Chudzinski also must accept the fact that Joe Banner will be involved in personnel, and may make decisions the coach does not like. As long as this structure is in place, it’s reality for the coach.
Too, Chudzinski usually he has his best season in his first with a team. That’s because he doesn’t ask too much.
In the second year, he expands his offense — figuring players are ready for more. But Anderson regressed in year two, just like Newton struggled early in in his second season. When the offense was pared back, the old Newton appeared.
Lots of reports have the Browns bringing in Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, which would be great but seems odd — unless you’re used to going to work for the guy who used to work under you. But word is Turner doesn’t care about that fact, so if he wants the job he may take it. Other reports say Turner will bring his son, and there’s the very real possibility Ken Dorsey will be an assistant coach.
Yes, that Ken Dorsey.
Chudzinski does not bring sizzle the way Kelly might.
But what he brings NFL-wise might be more solid in the long run.
Because he’s been around the league and understands the personnel and approach. He won’t bring in a gimmick offense, but he will bring in an NFL one that will focus on the vertical passing game — no more of those constant underneath crossing routes — that opens up the field for a power running game.
In short, it’s the kind of system Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon and Greg Little would seem to like.
It’s also NFL proven.
Chudzinski may not have been in the Browns initial list of top choices — but time may prove he should have been.