BEREA: In his second week on the job, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski struck boldly.
In the biggest decision of his young tenure, Chudzinski announced he is turning over the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
There was no gnashing of teeth, no attempt to hide who would be doing what as there has been in the past, when the Browns played in their own version of Upstairs, Downstairs. As he presented Turner on Wednesday, Chudzinski made the revelation in his opening statement.
It was a wonder no one in the press room gasped.
As one colleague observed, it took Chudzinski five seconds to say what it took former coach Pat Shurmur a year to figure out. Technically, he never did.
“We’ve talked through a number of things. Norv will be calling the plays. I’ll be involved in that process and overseeing that as well. Norv will also be coaching the quarterbacks,” Chudzinski said.
Chudzinski, 44, has been calling plays off and on since 2001, when he became offensive coordinator at the University of Miami. He’s handled the prestigious task in seven of the past 12 years, including two-year stints with the Browns and Carolina Panthers. That doesn’t include the final five games of the 2004 season when Browns interim coach Terry Robiskie gave the play sheet to Chudzinski, in his first NFL job as tight ends coach.
Chudzinski is considered a brilliant offensive mind. What better way for a rookie coach to show off than to dazzle the league with his innovations?
Maybe dazzling it with victories will do just fine.
Chudzinski didn’t seem threatened by the high-profile role he’s handing to Turner, who spent nearly 15 seasons as an NFL coach with the San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders.
“I think it comes from knowing each other,” Turner said. “I know how to be an assistant coach. I know what my role is, I know what my job is, I’ve done it before. So it’s not an issue for me. Rob’s got a lot of confidence in his ability. That’s why I think it wasn’t an issue for him.”
In 2009-10, Chudzinski served as Turner’s assistant head coach and tight ends coach in San Diego, where Turner spent the past six years. That’s when Chudzinski said they developed a way to work on offense so everyone was involved.
As Turner and his wife, Nancy, spent 10 days in Hawaii mulling what they should do next, Chudzinski said he knew Turner was the offensive coordinator he wanted.
“We have a great relationship,” Chudzinski said. “As an assistant head coach, I was sitting in there a lot of times learning, dealing with the same issues, seeing what things were coming across his desk. I feel that close and have that kind of trust with him. I don’t see the situation as being awkward at all.
“I’m a team guy. I’m leading the Browns in that way. Everybody’s going to contribute and that’s the type of environment we want here in this building.”
Chudzinski said he’s known Turner for 20 years, which would date back to Turner’s days as a Dallas Cowboys assistant under Jimmy Johnson, the former coach at Chudzinski’s alma mater, the University of Miami. Chudzinksi played tight end for the Hurricanes from 1986-90, the first three years under Johnson, and began his coaching career there as a graduate assistant in 1994.
Somewhere along the way, a coach must have warned Chudzinski about trying to do too much when he got his first chance in charge. It might have been Johnson. It might have been Turner.
It was a mistake that sabotaged Shurmur’s time with the Browns, a major gaffe by Shurmur and the man who hired him, former president Mike Holmgren. It wasn’t until his second (and last) season that Shurmur brought in former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress as offensive coordinator, but even then Shurmur called the plays.
Perhaps more secure in his own skin, Chudzinski realized how he could benefit with Turner as the play-caller.
“First of all Norv is outstanding at it, so it will give us a great opportunity to win,” Chudzinski said. “Secondly, I think it will allow me to be involved more with special teams, be involved more with defense. One of the things as a head coach that I want be careful of is just being classified as an offensive guy. I’m the head coach of the football team and being involved with everybody in all of those different phases and all of our players on a day-to-day basis is important in shaping the direction that we want to go.”
Turner, 60, might have convinced Chudzinski that delegating is the way to go, just as he did with first-year Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Turner said he and Tomlin were waiting together at Tomlin’s first NFL owners’ meeting in 2007 when the subject came up.
“There are a lot of things you have to handle that you don’t realize that first year,” Turner said. “That is one of the things Rob has kind of thought in terms of the role I’m playing offensively. You can get spread pretty thin real fast.”
There will be plenty to spread Chudzinski thin, like finding a franchise quarterback, adding talent on defense and changing the team’s culture. In the past, the Browns have been dogged by crises, suspensions and injuries.
But one of the biggest mistakes of the last regime was corrected before Chudzinski finished decorating his office. What looks like Chudzinski’s only play call of 2013 was the perfect handoff.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.