The Cleveland Browns formally announced the hiring of new head coach Rob Chudzinski in a press conference on Friday, with the move being both surprising and yet, somehow, also familiar. Surprising, because with the glut of information flooding the universe about Cleveland's head coaching search, Chudzinski's name often got lost in the shuffle.
And familiar because, well, he's been here before.
This will be Chudzinski's third stint with the franchise, albeit his first as head coach. In 2004, he was the team's tight end coach as well as interim offensive coordinator, and in 2007 he returned as offensive coordinator (for two seasons), helping the Browns put forward their best offense since the franchise returned in 1999.
In between his time in Cleveland, Chudzinski was tight ends coach as well as assistant head coach for the San Diego Chargers. He was nearly single-handedly responsible for the boom in production they received out of Antonio Gates. From the official Browns press release:
"In four seasons working with Chudzinski, Gates averaged 72.3 receptions, 991.0 yards and 9.3 touchdowns per season, compared to an average of 58.8 receptions, 726.1 yards and 7.7 touchdowns in six seasons without Chudzinski."
Most recently, Chudzinski was offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, spending the past two years molding quarterback Cam Newton. It's clear that Chudzinski is an offensive-minded head coach, but word is that he'll be bringing on a coordinator—though play-calling duties will be determined based on whom that man is.
Rumors are swirling that it will be former Chargers head coach Norv Turner, but confirming that is at least a few days away while Chudzinski meets with holdovers from the Browns' current coaching staff.
Regardless, expect the Browns offense in particular to be far more aggressive with Chudzinski running it. He has a big-play, stretch-the-field philosophy that should allow quarterback Brandon Weeden (or whoever is under center) the opportunity to show off a strong arm. And his success with Carolina's running game—Newton and running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams each had more than 700 yards rushing in 2011—proves he is more than capable of effectively using Trent Richardson and Montario Hardesty.
Furthermore, Chudzinski also wanted the Browns job—not just so he could finally list "head coach" on his resume, but because it was the Browns.
He's an Ohio native who grew up fanatically rooting for the team, and now that he's landed his dream job, he'll certainly put forth the effort to keep it. There will be neither the distracted decision-making that former team president Mike Holmgren was accused of nor the stepping-stone behavior (among others) that many felt characterized Eric Mangini's tenure as head coach.
For a team that has had but two winning seasons since coming back into the league in 1999 (one of which was thanks to the offense Chudzinski had built), it was important that owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner find someone completely committed to the Browns, even with its rather bleak history.
There's no question that Chudzinski fulfills those demands.
The Browns' coaching search has been an all-over-the-place affair, as such decisions usually are. Just one week ago, it seemed all but a certainty that Oregon head coach Chip Kelly would be taking the job. Ken Whisenhunt, Bruce Arians, Marc Trestman and others were all linked to the team to various degrees, and Cleveland fans, in turn, had varying degrees of enthusiasm for each.
It's understandable, therefore, why the hire of Chudzinski is being met with some serious skepticism.
There's the usual worry that, no matter whom the coach is, the Browns never seem to turn things around, and there's no way the new hire can last more than two, maybe three seasons. And there's nothing like turning to someone with a Cleveland past to make Browns fans feel like no progress is being made. Moreover, there's the regression of Newton and the Panthers offense in 2012 looming over Chudzinski's otherwise near-flawless 19 years of coaching experience.
And, ultimately, it's okay to have these worries; they're nearly ingrained into the fabric of what it means to root for the Browns, and it's going to take a lot out of this new Haslam-Banner-Chudzinski regime to put those feelings to rest.
There's a lot being asked of this front office and coaching staff—and rightfully so.
However, given Chudzinski's career body of work, his enthusiasm for the Browns organization, the level of talent and potential currently on the roster and the prospects for improvement both via the draft and free agency...it's a very good hire.
The problem for the fans now is trusting that it is.