By Tony Grossi
A lot of talk at Rob Chudzinski’s introductory press conference as Browns coach focused on the story of the kid from Toledo growing up idolizing a team and then realizing the adult dream of coaching it.
“I was the guy in the backyard pretending to be Ozzie Newsome and Brian Sipe,” Chudzinski, 44, said, beaming. “I would not miss this for the world, the opportunity to come back and bring a winner back home.
“It is a dream come true, almost unbelievable in a lot of ways, this kid from Toledo, being a Browns fan, loving the Browns, understanding what this team means to this city and region. I’ve been on Cloud Nine. I think I slept for about an hour last night.
“My cousins and I wanted to be in the Dawg Pound so bad that we would watch games in December out in the snow. We’d flip the TV around to see through the window.”
Chudzinski, of course, had two stints as a Browns assistant coach – as tight ends coach under Butch Davis in 2004 and then offensive coordinator under Romeo Crennel in 2007-08. Now Chudzinski is in charge of his own destiny under new leadership and hope.
But don’t think for a minute that Chudzinski was some sort of hometown lock for the job.
“I’ll be honest,” said Jimmy Haslam, the Tennessee native who was making his first major hire as Browns owner. “That’s a nice to,not a have to, and a great story. But if Rob had been from Plano, Texas, we would have hired him.”
So how did it come to be that the Browns turned to Chudzinski? And where will the sixth coach in 14 years take the team? Here is a primer on how the search process led by Haslam and CEO Joe Banner unfolded and where it goes from here.
When did Chudzinski rise to the top of the search?
Haslam said “nine or 10” candidates were interviewed. Banner said “four or five” received second interviews. While Haslam said Chudzinski was “always on our radar screen,” he wasn’t contacted until Tuesday in the second wave of candidates.
Chudzinski interviewed for over five hours Wednesday at Haslam’s home in Bratenahl and returned to Charlotte, N.C. On Thursday, he was called and told Haslam and Banner would fly to Charlotte for dinner. In a couple of hours, he was offered the job.
How did Chudzinski impress them?
Haslam listed “strong leader” first among his priorities. Chudzinski conveyed that quality with assertive responses in the interview.
“Rob was very decisive,” Haslam said. “He said, ‘ I’m an offensive guy, but here’s my role on defense, here’s my role on special teams, here’s the type of people I would bring in. Hiring people is both an art and a science. You’ve got to rely on the data, but there’s also an instinctive gut feel. The body language early on felt very comfortable. “
Chudzinski also impressed them when identifying his prospective coaching staff in the interviews.
“His ability to attract coaches he wants was vital,” Banner said.
None would comment on reports that Chudzinski has a commitment from Norv Turner to be his offensive coordinator. If that name was dropped in the interview, it could have been a deal-maker. A candidate for defensive coordinator could be Mel Tucker, another former Browns assistant coach on the same Crennel staff as Chudzinski in 2008.
How big a factor was his offensive background?
Very big. Although two known defensive coordinators received interviews – Ray Horton of Arizona and Mike Zimmer of Cincinnati – it is quite evident Haslam and Banner favored an offensive coach.
“He is tremendously innovative,” Haslam said. “We are very bottom-line people. You look at results. The last two years, Rob was coordinator at Carolina and they scored 88 touchdowns. We scored 48.”
Haslam and Banner also believed the young talent on offense needed more attention to continue its development.
“When you’ve had the opportunity to talk to the number of coaches that Joe and I did, the one common theme that came back is ‘you guys have a great offensive line, it’s a tremendous way to build a football team, you have young players on offense,’” Haslam said. “In going through this process … we migrated back to the pro game is becoming more and more offensive. We think we have great young talent on offense and we thought it was exceptionally important to bring in an individual who can take advantage of, develop that young talent so that we can put the kind of points on the board that one, will win games and two, candidly, will be fun to watch.”
What style offense will Chudzinski employ?
It’s the same physical run/vertical pass system Turner used as Jimmy Johnson’s coordinator with the Cowboys in the 1990s and then took to San Diego as head coach. Chudzinski already was learning it at University of Miami before he joined Turner with the Chargers as an assistant coach in 2005.
“It’s an attacking style,” Chudzinski said. “I like to be balanced. Balance to me does not mean we’re going to throw the ball and run it the same amount of times. Balance to me means you run it when you need to run it to win, and throw it when you need to throw it to win. You have to be able to win games in different ways. You have to win a low-scoring game in snow or a high-scoring shootout. You have to be able to do both.”
What about his defense? Will he keep the 4-3 system already in place or change to the 3-4?
Chudzinski said the exact configuration of the defense would be determined by his coordinator, but he expects to be able to run either – or both.
“We’re going to be an attacking style defense, going to create turnovers, want to get after the quarterback and affect the quarterback’s play,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 thing you can do as a defense. Whether that’s a 4-3 or a 3-4 … nowadays, there’s a lot of hybrid systems out there. It will tie in more with the coordinator I hire. I think we have the opportunity to go either way.”
How fast will the Browns identify their personnel director?
Haslam said it could take a few days or a month – same thing he said of the coaching search. He and Banner would not comment on candidates.
“The key thing is to get the right person to work closely with Joe and Rob,” Haslam said. “There will be all kinds of rumors. Rob will be involved in the process, too.”
Who will have final say on the draft, free agency, trades and picking the roster?
“We’re going to share that responsibility,” Chudzinski said. “I just feel so good about the group we’re here with today. All those things we’ll be able to work together well on.”
And don’t think for a minute that accepting that shared responsibility isn’t a major reason why Chudzinski today is coach of the Browns.
|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
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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