At first glance, the Browns hiring of Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as coach Thursday night seemed surprising, especially when their two-week search included much bigger names.
But in many ways it makes perfect sense.
At 44, he’s relatively young.
He’s intelligent (earning an MBA from the University of Miami), a tireless worker and an innovative offensive mind.
He grew up in Toledo rooting for the Kardiac Kids. His family came to the games in his two previous stints with the Browns..
He’s experienced the Browns’ struggles firsthand after serving as offensive coordinator in 2007-08 under coach Romeo Crennel and tight ends coach in 2004 under Butch Davis.
He had a huge hand in one of the best Browns offensive seasons in team history. In 2007, the Browns scored 402 points, their third-best all-time. Receiver Braylon Edwards broke Gary Collins’ record for receiving touchdowns that had stood for 44 years and quarterback Derek Anderson tossed 29 TD passes and went to the Pro Bowl. A 10-6 season led to contract extensions for Crennel, Anderson and general manager Phil Savage.
Chudzinski played tight end at the University of Miami and won two national championships, so he knows the chemistry needed to make a team a winner. He also coached 10 years there
Before owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner became infatuated with Oregon’s Chip Kelly, it seemed as if they were searching for the next Mike Tomlin. The perception was they would end up with an unknown assistant with no previous head coaching experience but possessing the leadership and charisma to inspire NFL players. Chudzinski isn’t unknown here, but he fits that profile. Under him, Anderson, Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow had their most productive NFL seasons. He seems ready for his big break.
After Davis resigned with five games remaining in 2004, interim coach Terry Robiskie tabbed Chudzinski to call the plays, unusual since Chudzinski was so close to Davis. Browns tight ends considered that a sign of respect from Robiskie.
"As a kid I wanted to grow up and play here; this I guess is the next best thing,” Chudzinski said then.
In fact, on the day Davis’ departure was announced, owner Randy Lerner was asked if he would recommend any of the current assistants to be retained by the next regime.
"I'm not into meddling and I don't even want to do things that are that close," Lerner said that day. "I do think there are talented guys and Chudzinski is great."
Evidently Haslam and Banner saw the same thing in Chudzinski. To some, that may seem frightening, especially considering Lerner's track record in hiring. At the moment, I’m not among them. Something about Chudzinski's hiring seems right.