By Tony Grossi
A search that began with lofty hopes of big-namers Nick Saban or Chip Kelly has concluded with two-time Browns assistant coach Rob Chudzinski as the first head coach of the Jimmy Haslam-Joe Banner era.
Chudzinski, a boyhood Browns fan growing up in Toledo, reached a deal Thursday night and will be introduced Friday morning as the club’s sixth full-time head coach in the expansion era since 1999.
Chudzinski, 44, fits the mold of young, offensive-minded NFL assistant that Banner struck when Andy Reid was a surprise choice as Philadelphia Eagles head coach 14 years ago.
The difference is that Chudzinski is not an unknown to Browns fans as Reid was to Eagles fans 14 years ago. He served as an assistant coach under two of the five head coaches who proceeded him.
Butch Davis brought him over from University of Miami as tight ends coach in 2004. After Davis resigned/was fired during that season, Chudzinski joined Norv Turner in San Diego.
Two years later, Browns GM Phil Savage hired Chudzinski as Romeo Crennel’s offensive coordinator. When the Savage era was blown up following a disappointing 2008 season, Chudzinski returned to San Diego as Turner’s assistant head coach.
That association apparently will be renewed in Cleveland. Multiple reports Thursday night said Turner, who was fired as San Diego head coach, will be Chudzinski’s offensive coordinator with the Browns.
For the past two years, Chudzinski was quarterback Cam Newton’s offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers. Chud’s work with Newton – developing him while adjusting to his unique skill set -- secured his reputation as one of the league’s brightest offensive coordinators.
Chudzinski’s star really rose in the 2007 season, when he parlayed Derek Anderson’s big arm into a high-wire pass offense with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. The Browns scored 402 points and amassed 5,621 yards of offense – third-best in both categories in franchise history.
The Browns went 10-6, missing the AFC playoffs on tiebreakers. It was the only season in the younger Lerner’s 10-year stewardship in which the Browns did not lose 10 or more games.
Lerner rewarded his top men with big contract extensions. Chudzinski, Anderson, Crennel and Savage all received new deals, but Chudzinski was given the longest of all of them – four years. They did it to stave off a request by the Baltimore Ravens to interview Chudzinski for their vacancy at head coach.
When the 2008 season crashed to a more-familiar 4-12, Lerner blew up the whole Savage regime. Chudzinski actually was getting paid by the Browns through the 2011 season – minus what he was paid by his other teams.
Chudzinski will outline his plans on defense at Friday morning’s press conference. It has been speculated that he will return the Browns to a 3-4 defensive system. An immediate contender to head the defense is Mel Tucker, who filled that role alongside Chudzinski under Crennel.
The Browns interviewed eight known candidates for the job to succeed Pat Shurmur. Chronologically, they were: Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, Oregon coach Chip Kelly, former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman and Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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