By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
The rise of Chud: New Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski was a surprise hire as Browns offensive coordinator in 2007. By the end of his first year on the job, he was an instant legend.
It is not an overstatement to say the 2007 Browns were the best offensive team in the franchise’s modern history after Paul Brown.
In fact, since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the 2007 Browns posted franchise highs in points (402), offensive touchdowns (42), total yards (5,621) and other categories.
Think about it. The 2007 Browns under Chudzinski were better, statistically, than the 1986 Bernie Kosar Browns and also the 1987 Browns, though that season was truncated by three strike replacement games and one canceled game.
The turning point of the 2007 season was when the Browns benched Charlie Frye after the first half of the first game against Pittsburgh. Frye was traded two days later – to Mike Holmgren’s Seattle Seahawks. Derek Anderson took over at quarterback and scored 51 points in his first start in Game 2, outdueling Carson Palmer in his prime.
Chudzinski’s power running/vertical passing offense produced some impressive numbers. Anderson had 29 touchdowns and 3,787 yards. Jamal Lewis rushed for 1,304 yards. Kellen Winslow had 82 catches for 1,106 yards. Braylon Edwards had the greatest season ever for a Browns receiver – 80 catches, 1,289 yards, 16 touchdowns. Joe Jurevicius was third in the league with 29 third-down conversions with receptions.
The Browns won 10 games and missed the playoffs on tie-breakers. Chudzinski’s offensive transformation earned new contracts for Anderson, GM Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel.
But the first man to get a new deal was Chudzinski. When the Baltimore Ravens asked for permission to interview Chudzinski as a replacement for fired head coach Brian Billick, the Browns quickly extended Chudzinski’s contract two years through 2011 at $2.7 million a year. At the time, only Jason Garrett was making more among offensive coordinators. Garrett received a $3 million contract to stay with Dallas rather than go to Baltimore.
The Ravens turned to Philadelphia defensive backs coach and long-time special teams guru John Harbaugh as their third choice. Harbaugh proceeded to take the Ravens to the playoffs five years in a row and has them in the AFC Championship Game this year. And to think the Ravens preferred Garrett or Chudzinski.
The fall of Chud: A year later, Chudzinski went from legend to fired assistant coach. The whole Savage-Crennel regime was blown up after the 10-6 team descended into a typical 4-12 Browns disaster.
How did that happen? How did Chud go from one of the brightest offensive coaches in the NFL to another victim of the Cleveland Losing Machine? These were the major factors:
1. In April, the NFL tabbed the Browns as the season's up-and-comers, and scheduled them for five prime-time games in 2008 – more than any team but San Diego (six).
2. Reaching for the brass ring, Savage traded his second- and third-round draft picks for veteran defensive linemen Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. Those trades came after Savage had traded away his first-round pick a year earlier for quarterback Brady Quinn.
3. Jurevicius had knee surgery in the offseason, developed a staph infection and had five more surgeries throughout the year, missing the entire season.
4. Bedrock right tackle Ryan Tucker was suspended for the first four games for a banned substance violation. Tucker, never the same, wound up starting eight games at right guard.
5. In the second exhibition game against the New York Giants, injuries to Anderson, Lewis and Josh Cribbs kept them out of the remainder of preseason.
6. In a playful training camp mishap, receiver Donte Stallworth, who was acquired to take some pressure off Jurevicius and move him to the full-time slot position, stepped on the bare right foot of Edwards with his football cleat and almost blew out Edwards’ Achilles tendon. Edwards missed the rest of preseason.
7. In pre-game warmups prior to the season opener, Stallworth pulled a hamstring muscle and took himself out of the game.
8. Winslow became a huge distraction when he alleged the Browns tried to cover up a staph infection he said he contracted at the team’s facility. The relationship between Winslow and Savage became untenable when Savage suspended Winslow, and then owner Randy Lerner rescinded the suspension to head off a veiled threat of a lawsuit from Winslow.
A day after firing Crennel and his staff, Lerner met with Eric Mangini and settled on the fired New York Jets coach as his next coach of the Browns. Chudzinski fled to San Diego to rejoin Norv Turner as Chargers tight ends coach.
Chudzinski moved on to Carolina as Panthers offensive coordinator in 2011. In two years there, he coached Cam Newton to some wondrous things, though the Panthers slumped from fifth in scoring to 18th in their second year together and won only six and seven games.
The return of Chud: When Chudzinski returned for his third stint with the Browns on Friday, he came back to an entirely new organization and football culture.
Jimmy Haslam replaced Lerner as owner. Joe Banner replaced Savage as GM, though Banner prefers the title of CEO.
Brandon Weeden replaced Anderson at quarterback. Josh Gordon replaced Edwards at No. 1 receiver. Trent Richardson replaced Lewis at running back.
Chudzinski certainly wasn’t the Browns’ first choice, or second, or even possibly third. But as the Ravens proved with Harbaugh, sometimes things happen for a reason and turn out for the best.
|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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