By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Chud’s time: The first morning at his first NFL league meetings as head coach of the Browns, Rob Chudzinski’s 5 o’clock wakeup call woke his wife, Sheila.
“She wanted to know where I was going that early,” Chudzinski said. “She thought we were on vacation.”
There has been no down time for Chudzinski – not even at the sumptuous Arizona Biltmore resort at which NFL meetings were held this week. He doesn’t play golf and his fair skin doesn’t take too kindly to the Arizona sun.
Chudzinski is most comfortable holed up in a darkened room to study video. And he’s done plenty of that since becoming the surprise choice of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner as their first Browns coach on Jan. 10.
Even though the Toledo native and lifelong Browns fan had been an assistant coach with the team for two terms under different head coaches, Chudzinski, 44, wasn’t the preferred choice of fans looking for their next savior. Bigger names such as Nick Saban and Jon Gruden were bandied about.
And when the Browns engaged in marathon talks with Oregon’s Chip Kelly, the hottest name in the college ranks, the risk of not securing Kelly’s name on a contract was that anybody else was going to be considered a letdown.
Chudzinski was a late entry in the coaching search. And then everything happened so fast, Chud had very little time to familiarize himself with the team for which he was interviewing.
“I looked at them just quickly,” he said of the interview process with the Browns. “But that process went from getting a call one evening to me going to Cleveland the next day, so I had a little chance to look at some tape and then the following day, Jimmy, Joe and Alec (Scheiner, team president) came down to Charlotte and we had dinner there, so it went pretty quickly.”
After the talks with Kelly broke down, the Browns were anxious to conclude the process. Chudzinski had the same characteristics that originally made Kelly appealing to them – young, offensive-minded and very creative. Plus, he left no doubt how badly he wanted the job.
A national football reporter asked Chudzinski if the Browns’ quarterback situation was a turn-off to him.
“I'm a Browns fan,” he replied with a wide smile. “Do you think I was going to turn the job down?”
Chud was the first: It was interesting listening to the line of questioning from reporters sitting at the table of Kelly, now the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
They asked about his offensive innovations, the breakneck pace at which his offense plays, his unpredictable moves to go for two points after the first touchdown of a game or refusing to punt, and, of course, the read option offense that spawned the NFL trend.
The day before, Chudzinski was explaining to a much smaller media crowd that it was Cam Newton – not RG3 or Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick – that first showed in 2011 how the read option could work in the NFL. And it was Chudzinski who married Newton’s superb athletic skills to a scheme that eased his transition to the NFL game.
With Chudzinski as Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator, Newton threw for rookie record 4,051 yards and ran for 706. He produced 35 touchdowns throwing and running. Then in a second season that was framed as a disappointment, he produced 27 touchdowns.
“That was a unique experience … bringing that for the first time and doing a lot of those things with your quarterback in the league for the first time when we had Cam,” Chudzinski said. “It was a lot of fun. To be able to think outside the box and do some of those things I think helped me not just for those type of quarterbacks but for other quarterbacks. You’re thinking ‘Hey, maybe there’s some things we can do with those other guys,’ and keeping your eyes open to that.”
After Newton’s sensational rookie season, Chudzinski fielded calls from coaches anxious to pick his brain on incorporating the read option.
“There were a lot of people watching our tape that offseason, I know, and were very much interested, intrigued, in what was going on,” Chud said. “Some of those things were going on in the wildcat. Hey, I didn’t invent any of this stuff.”
The outside-the-box thinking appealed to the Browns. And if the Browns didn’t have the right quarterback to run the read option, Chud’s experience with it at least would help his team defend it. At the NFL combine, Banner said the offense might not be right for every team, but every team better be ready to defend it.
“I do know some things about it that make it difficult for the offenses running it, from being on the other side of it,” Chudzinski said. “I know what some of the issues are when you do it defensively and some of the things we struggled with. I think that will be valuable for us.”
The Chud and Norv show: The biggest additions the Browns have made on offense are Chudzinski and Norv Turner, his mentor who switched roles and now will serve as coordinator.
The Browns are banking on the two of them developing young offensive talent such as Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and, yes, Brandon Weeden.
“I think it's going to be an interesting set of dynamics,” said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who has worked with both men. “I will say this, there's a lot of good offensive minds in one room.”
Turner was called the best play-caller in the NFL today by Fox game analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. Before ushering in Newton to the NFL, Chudzinski authored the most prolific Browns offense in 30 years as the team’s coordinator in 2007.
Because Weeden most closely resembles the dropback style of Derek Anderson – and Turner’s quarterbacks over the years – the betting favorite is that the Browns’ offense will more resemble the 2007 version than what Chudzinski did in Carolina.
But you never know.
“One thing Norv’s always been real good with is you just don’t run the same offense every single year,” Chudzinski said. “This is a lesson I learned from him. You have to adjust, because defenses are going to adjust to you. So you have to constantly be working to find better ways of moving your offense in a certain direction to match your personnel and put those guys in the best position to win.”
|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.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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