September 23, 2014

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Reputation and resume not Ohio roots lands Rob Chudzinski dream job as Browns coach

BEREA — Rob Chudzinski didn’t have the biggest name in the Browns’ coaching search. His resume is solid but lacks a Super Bowl and head coaching experience. His hiring Thursday night surprised plenty of people across the NFL.

But desire can’t be discounted, and no one wanted it more.

“For me, personally, it’s the best job,” Chudzinski said Friday after being introduced as the 14th
full-time coach in franchise history. “There have been other head coaching jobs I’ve seen or potentially had the opportunities for, but this is the one that’s special to me.

“The emotions are running wild. I can’t wait to get started.”

Chudzinski, 44, has always worn his passion for the Browns on his orange and brown sleeves. He was thrilled to be an assistant in 2004, ’07 and ’08 and dreamed of returning as head coach. The Toledo native again recalled a childhood of pretending to be Ozzie Newsome and Brian Sipe and turning around the TV in the window to watch in the snow so it felt like the Dawg Pound.

“I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for anything in the world,” Chudzinski said. “To bring back the pride, the passion, the success this franchise has had in the past, I want to be part of that.”

Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have only been Cleveland fans for months. They weren’t swayed by the coming-home story, and Haslam said he didn’t know Chudzinski was from Toledo until they met.

“That’s a nice-to, not a have-to,” Haslam said. “It’s a great story, but if Rob had been from Plano, Texas, we’d have hired him.”

Haslam said he and Banner interviewed “nine or 10 of the best coaches in the country” in the 11-day search he called tiring and informative. He reiterated they didn’t enter the process with a clear-cut favorite but exited with the perfect fit.

“I believe we came back with the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format that we want to have here in Cleveland, that we all expect to have,” Haslam said. “If you talk to people in the business, he’s regarded as one of the brightest, if not the brightest, young minds in the business. He is tremendously innovative.”

Haslam and Banner interviewed defensive coaches Ray Horton and Mike Zimmer, but they chose to go offense. The league is slanted to that side of the ball, and Haslam likes the idea of a product that’s fun to watch. He pointed out the Panthers scored 87 offensive touchdowns in the last two years with Chudzinski as coordinator while the Browns managed 48.

“We think we have great young talent on offense and we thought it was exceptionally important to bring in an individual who could take advantage of, develop it,” Haslam said. “Everywhere Rob has been the quarterback has gotten dramatically better.”

Chudzinski accumulated acclaim in 19 years as a college and NFL assistant, but he’s never directed an organization or commanded a 53-man roster. He interviewed with Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and St. Louis last season but didn’t get the jobs.

Haslam isn’t worried about the great unknown.

“In the background checks we did with some really well-known, well-respected head coaches and coordinators, the response was, ‘There is no doubt Rob can control the room and can focus the team and lead the team,’” Haslam said. “We had zero doubt about that. That came through loud and clear.”

Chudzinski is just as confident he can handle the spotlight.

“I feel very prepared,” he said. “I’ve been around the people who’ve given me the opportunities to see what it takes to be a great head coach and hopefully I can put all those things together and get that done.”

Haslam, seated on Chudzinski’s left, brings the emotion to a news conference. Banner, seated on the right, brings the analysis. Banner’s last coaching search brought Andy Reid to the Eagles in 1999. He had never been a coordinator or head coach, but Banner knew what to look for then — and now.

“These are hard projections but we felt like we benefited from having a very clear picture as to what would separate the ones that have succeeded in taking that leap and the ones that haven’t,” he said. “I think it was (Chudzinski’s) ability through a variety of anecdotal stories and the specifics of his plan that convinced us he was the type of leader who could run the whole program.”

The Browns are on their sixth head coach since returning to the NFL in 1999. The last two, Eric Mangini and Pat Shurmur, fell victim to regime changes and lasted two seasons.

Haslam and Banner have pledged to stop the revolving door, and that was their mission when they began the search after firing Shurmur on Dec. 31. They met with Oregon’s Chip Kelly for seven hours last Friday and waited another day before moving on, then resumed the search from Cleveland.

Chudzinski got the call Tuesday and interviewed Wednesday at Haslam’s lakefront mansion in Bratenahl. He got a good feeling, but returned to Charlotte, N.C.

The follow-up call came Thursday that Haslam and Banner wanted to fly down for dinner. The offer came about an hour into the meal.

“It is a dream come true, almost unbelievable in a lot of ways,” Chudzinski said. “I’ve been on cloud 9.”
Chudzinski’s excitement was obvious despite red eyes that reflected his hour of sleep. He flew to Cleveland late Thursday night, couldn’t sleep and was fired up to begin the job.

His first priorities were meeting with Shurmur’s staff. He may interview some members for positions, but most are expected to leave. He also planned to contact the players to express his vision.

“We’re going to be an attacking offense, attacking defense and we’re going to play that way, that style, great effort and great finish,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to give these guys great coaches. We’re going to give them the tools they can utilize to win games.

“We’re going to focus on innovation. We’re going to focus on giving them the best possible schemes and pushing the envelope on those things and putting them in the best possible position to win and be successful.”

Chudzinski will rely on a vertical, downfield passing attack that could suit quarterback Brandon Weeden’s strong arm, though he wouldn’t evaluate him or the roster. He wants a balanced attack and plans to adjust his schemes to fit the talent.

The Browns’ best offensive season since their return was when Chudzinski was calling the plays in 2007. Left tackle Joe Thomas and receiver Joshua Cribbs are the only offensive players remaining.

“I’m happy to see Chud coming back,” Thomas said in an email to The Associated Press. “We had a good year in 2007. Very smart offensive mind. When he left, I knew he’d be a great head coach someday!”

Haslam loved Chudzinski’s decisiveness in their meetings, even though he might question his diet as a teenager.

“I have to admit, I’ve eaten a dog biscuit or two in my day,” Chudzinski said. “I know how important this franchise is to people here and how beloved this team is and I just want to be a part of that.”

He got what he so desperately wanted.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.