BEREA—The Browns are hoping the third time is the charm.
Rob Chudzinski became the 14th full-time coach in Browns history as he was introduced by Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner in Berea. He is the sixth coach since the team returned in 1999 and third in five seasons.
Chudzinski was tight ends coach for the Browns in 2004 under Butch Davis and then was the interim offensive coordinator when Davis stepped down. He returned as Romeo Crennel’s offensive coordinator in 2007 & 2008 before being let go when Crennel was fired.
Chudzinski said he felt he would end up back with his dream job.
“I remember walking out of the stadium the last time (in 2008) and looked across the field and thought somehow, someway I’d be back.”
Chudzinski said he got very little sleep after being offered the job Thursday night when Haslam and Banner flew to Charlotte to meet with him over dinner.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to be on a plane last night. I’m excited and didn’t sleep much and thinking about all the things that need to be done.”
Chudzinski said he was first contacted Tuesday and then came to Cleveland for an interview Wednesday.
“Thursday I got a call and Jimmy and Joe wanted to come down and meet for dinner,” he said. “We met in Charlotte and Jimmy offered me the opportunity to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. It is a dream come true for a kid growing up in Toledo, Ohio. I’ve been on cloud nine and think I slept about an hour.”
Haslam said he and Banner interviewed eight or nine candidates and Banner said they had second interviews with four or five. With high profiles leaked out such as Chip Kelly, Haslam was asked if Chudzinski was always on the Browns list.
“Rob was on our radar screen for a long time.”
Chudzinski talked about growing up in Toledo and pretending to be Ozzie Newsome or Brian Sipe in the back yard. He admitted he’s even eaten a couple of dog biscuits in his day.
“I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for anything in the world,” he said. “This allows me to fulfill a dream not only to be a head coach, but to be a head coach of the Cleveland Browns. It means a lot to me.
“I am excited about this opportunity and to bring back to what I had as a kid being Ozzie Newsome or Brian Sipe in the backyard,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity for the world.”
Chudzinski interviewed for three head coaching positions after the 2011 season, but his first opportunity this off-season was with the team he wanted to be with from the beginning. He was confident when he received the call that he would be hired.
“There’s not a lot you can do on zeroing in,” Chudzinski said. “You hope you get called. The call came Tuesday and I knew I was going to get the job.”
In 2007, Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator and the Browns offense was best in terms of total yards (5,621), passing yards (3,726) and points scored (402) since the team returned in 1999.
In 2011, his first season with the Panthers, the team set club records for total yards (6,237) with Cam Newton at quarterback. Newton was the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards, while setting an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14 on his way to AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Panthers were 12th in the NFL in offense last season (9th rushing, 16th passing).
Haslam said he was impressed with Chudzinski’s work.
“In the last two years, Carolina has scored 88 touchdowns and we’ve scored 48,” Haslam said. “If you watch how they play or how they scheme, he has developed a scheme around the team.
“The pro game is becoming more and more offensive and we want to develop that young talent and will win games will be fun to watch.”
Haslam and Banner are very confident they got their man.
“I think we sat here 11 days ago and said we didn’t have a clear cut choice,” Haslam said. “I think we got the right guy.
“When you meet Rob it comes across,” Haslam said. “We met at our home and he has a very well thought out plan. He was very decisive when he laid out what he would do if he was coach of the Cleveland Browns.
“Rob was very decisive in this is how I’m going to do things,” he said. “He was very definitive and you have to rely on the science and the art part, but you also have a gut feeling.”
“In just reiterating the process of what we went through leaves us feeling very confident with this hire,” Banner said. “We’re very excited for Rob. He’s what we were looking for.
“I think we focused on what we’ve seen,” he said. “These are hard projections but we feel we identified the qualities that we were looking for and feel very confident in him.”
Haslam said the Browns need stability and he is confident Chudzinski will be the guy to bring that to the Browns. He said the trip to Charlotte Thursday confirmed what he and Banner were looking for so they offered him the job.
“We felt very positive that Rob was the man,” he said. “The process we laid out was going to be a very deliberate process. This organization has had a lot of change. We were way down the road with Rob and we just felt confirmation of everything. If you think how important of a hire this is for this organization, we went down there with that in mind thinking he was the right guy and after an hour (Joe and I) looked at each other and knew.”
Chudzinski has never been a head coach at any level but he has been the offensive coordinator at the University of Miami, Browns and the Panthers.
Chudzinski thinks his experiences, including being Norv Turner’s assistant head coach has been very helpful to him. Chudzinski was asked how he has improved since he was last with the Browns.
“If you’re in this business and you’re not improving you shouldn’t be in this business,” he said. “The opportunity to be assistant head coach in San Diego allowed me to see what some of that entails. The process of being with (Panthers coach) Ron Rivera and him going through the process. I’ve been around some good coaches.”
Haslam said they interviewed offensive and defensive coaches, but felt a coach with an offensive background was ultimately the best way to go.
“We talked to some outstanding defensive people, but the game is migrating to the offensive side,” he said. “We want to develop the offensive side of the ball.”
One of the concerns by many is if Chudzinski will retain the 4-3 defensive alignment the Browns personnel is suited for.
“We’re going to be an attacking style of defense, create turnovers and attack the quarterback,” he said. “Whether that’s a 4-3 or a 3-4 it will tie more in to the coordinator. I think we have the versatility to go either way.
“We’re going to be physical on both sides of the ball and built on a foundation of fundamentals,” he said. “We’re going to give these guys great coaches and tools. We want to push the envelope and focus on critical situations in games and tying it all together with complimentary football.”
Chudzinski said the NFL today employs many ‘hybrid’ types of styles on defense. Banner said the Browns could play either defense without having to revamp their personnel completely.
Chudzinski said there is no one who will put more pressure on him to turn the Browns around than himself. He was asked why he thinks he’ll be successful when his predecessors have not been.
“I put enough pressure on myself that nothing adds to that,” he said. “This opportunity is the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I have a plan. We’re going to get great coaches. This is going to be about the process. The process is going to be the right process to get where we want to be.”
Here are some other topics addressed in the press conference.
Q: Where are you in the search for a GM/Personnel Director?:
Haslam: “Joe and I have started the process to find a GM/personnel person. It might take some time. There will be some rumors and now there will be three people not just two with Rob (involved).”
Q: Who has say on the final 53-man roster?:
Chudzinski:“We’re going to share that responsibility and I feel good about what we’re doing.”
Q: What will you do first?:
Chudzinski: “The first order is to put together my coaching staff. This is about a process. There are some pieces here and it’s going to be a process. We want to build a winner and sustain it. I will work tirelessly. I promise we will put a team on the field and a product that you will be proud of.”
Q: Comment on your first impressions of the Browns roster?:
Chudzinski: “One of the big things once we get the staff together is evaluate the personnel and it will be premature for me to comment before we get together and how it fits with the players. Until we do get the staff together and get into the roster it would be premature.”
Q: Do you think the Browns can win next season?:
Chudzinski: “We’re going to win here but how soon that will be, time will tell.”
Q: Will you keep any of the assistants currently on the Browns staff since there are so many young players?:
Chudzinski: “I’m going to meet with the coaches (starting Friday)that are currently here and I will l go through the process .”
Q: Will you call the plays?:
Chudzinski: “That will be determined with the staff as we put it together. If I’m comfortable with the offensive coordinator, he’ll (call the plays).”
Q: Did you change your offense with Cam Newton?:
Chudzinski: “You have to put the players in the best position to help them be successful. We did some things with Cam Newton the past two years that I wasn’t familiar with before.”
Q: How important is it to adjust to the personnel on the team?:
Chudzinski: “Those adjustments are the key to being successful on a year to year basis. If a guy has something he can do is special, you have to find ways to use it.”
Q: Any memories of growing up a Browns fan?:
Chudzinski: “There might be a picture of me circulating in 1973 in a Browns helmet and uniform. My memories are more going out and throwing the football and pretending and believing I was scoring the touchdown. We would watch games on television through the window while being outside in the snow. I have to admit I’ve eaten a dog biscuit or two in my day. I know how important and beloved this franchise is to these fans.”
Q: Any parallels between Chudzinski and when you hired Andy Reid?:
Banner: “The parallel only began with the same criteria other than that, they are two completely different individuals. What’s similar is hiring somebody is an outstanding leader.”
“His ability that he could highly respected in the league. Banner
Q: Are you concerned that Chudzinski has never been a head coach before?:
Haslam: “I think everybody has a different leadership and management style. With all of the background checking we did on him, there was zero doubt that he could control the room.”