The Cleveland Browns Newest Coach – Rob Chudzinski
For many fans and media alike, it was a surprise to hear that the Browns hired Chudzinski as their next head coach. Just a week ago, Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner were meeting with Chip Kelly for seven hours hoping to land the “big name”. Many were clamoring for Nick Saban, Bill Cowher, and Jon Gruden – all of which did not express interest in the open position, though.
When the field was narrowed down to the final few candidates – Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Zimmer, and Chudzinski, I thought about what Haslam told us last week at his press conference. The Browns owner wanted a young, offensive mind who is strong and aggressive. Reading between the lines, it lead me to believe “Chud” was the guy for the orange and brown. He is the youngest of the three and has been working with offenses over the past two decades. As far as Chud’s (football) temperament goes, he typically is not passive when it comes to play calling. The coach has displayed tendencies to take shots downfield (as opposed to shorter passing routes and running plays). In his press conference, the words “attack” and “downfield” were used multiple times to describe his style of offense (as well as the defense), further cementing this fact.
Getting to Know You: Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Rob was a Browns fan who enjoyed playing football himself. The tight end attended St. John’s Jesuit High School and eventually wound up at the University of Miami. Here, Chud (which I’ll likely refer to him, going forward) lettered for three seasons and was a part of the 1987 National Championship team that featured Brian and Bennie Blades, Michael Irvin, Russell Maryland, and Steve Walsh (Miami also won another title in 1989). A couple years later, the tight end returned to his alma mater in order to become a graduate assistant with the football team during the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Over the span of the next eight seasons, he was elevated from within the program – first as the tight ends’ coach. From 1996 to 2000, Chud worked with talented athletes like Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey, who not only excelled in the NCAA but also the NFL. In the 2001 National Championship season, the soon-to-be Browns’ coach became the offensive coordinator (of a team that, ironically, was no longer coached by Butch Davis – the Browns’ head coach). Chud enjoyed a great deal success in this position; the university was one of the highest scoring teams ever at 42.6 points per game and defeated their opponents by 32.9 points per game. After dominance with NFL-talent (in the Miami offense) such as Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Frank Gore, to name a few; it was now time to move on to the NFL.
Knowing the position well, Chud became the tight ends coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2004. Here is where the coach reconvened with Kellen Winslow Jr., the first round rookie from Miami. Unfortunately though, Winslow broke his leg in the second game, hurting the position’s depth (and giving Steve Heiden a majority of playing time). The Browns’ season started at 3-3, but it went downhill quickly as Davis resigned from his head coaching position in mid-season. A majority of the coaching staff was not retained, and the tight ends’ coach was looking for work. Along came the San Diego Chargers, where once again the title of tight ends coach was bestowed upon him. Here, Chud worked with Antonio Gates – in 2005 and 2006, the former University of Kent State basketball player became a Pro Bowler and All-Pro (averaging over 1,000 yards receiving and just under ten touchdowns per year).
When finally given a job as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, Chud took the opportunity and ran with it. He returned to the Cleveland Browns, and the 2007 campaign was their best offensive season since the team returned – eight years earlier. The franchise went 10 – 6 and averaged just over twenty-five points per game (the most since 1999). Along those lines, the team sent six players to the Pro Bowl after that season; four of which were from the offense (Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr., Derek Anderson, and Joe Thomas). The team was looking to turn the corner and sustain success, but that was not the case. The 2008 Cleveland Browns lost their final six games of the season and finished with a 4 – 12 record, which was the demise for then-coach Romeo Crennel. Once again looking for another opportunity, Chud went back to his other former place of employment.
The San Diego Chargers did not skip a beat when their tight ends coach was re-introduced. Gates had another stellar campaign (1,157 yards and eight touchdowns), while the team enjoyed a 13 – 3 record. They were fourth in the league in scoring and fifth in point differential, but were ultimately defeated by the Jets in the playoffs. The Chargers’ 2010 season included a relatively mediocre record (9 – 7), and the team narrowly missed the playoffs. However, the offense continued to produce – they were second in the league in scoring points (27.6) and once again fifth in point differential. Gates was status quo (782 yards and ten touchdowns); having great athletes makes the coach’s job easier. After the two years as tight ends coach, Chud was seeking to become a head coach one day – returning to the offensive coordinator role was a way to accomplish this.
The Carolina Panthers came calling in 2011; number-one overall draft selection Cam Newton was in need of guidance in the NFL. The rookie-led offense put up more than respectable numbers – the team was fifth in the league in scoring and thirteenth in giveaway/takeaway differential. Newton was rewarded with Rookie of the Year honors and a participant in the Pro Bowl; he also closed in on a couple all-time rookie records. The quarterback put up 432 yards through the air (something the Browns have not seen in generations), 4,051 passing yards (second-most ever by a rookie), and the third-most passing touchdowns with twenty-one. A porous defense really hurt the franchise (allowing 26.8 points per game) and the Panthers finished with a record of 6 – 10. The 2012 team was slightly better (7 – 9 record), but the offense was not as dynamic. They ranked just 18th in the league in scoring points and had the same ranking in points allowed and point differential. On a positive note, the Panthers finished the season winning five out of their last six games (and six of the final nine), including wins over playoff teams like the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons.
2013 – New Year, New Opportunity:
After many different positions and locations across both the NCAA and the NFL, the forty-four year old finally got his shot at becoming a head coach – for his favorite franchise, nonetheless. Now, it will be interesting to see how he fills out his staff, his feelings on the current roster, and his coaching philosophies. One thing that is for sure – this is where he wants to be. While some are let down, I look forward to seeing what Chud can go as a head coach. I do not think he will be overwhelmed like Shurmur was – he has had success relatively everywhere he has been. Also, the coach is inheriting a Browns’ roster that has more talent than any coach has seen in the last fourteen years; couple that with the team will likely sign more free agents this offseason (with over $40 Million under the salary cap), and the team has an opportunity to amaze in 2013.