It’s going to be one of those moments you’ll remember for a while and we certainly hope it’s thought of with joy in the end: Where were you when you heard the Browns hired Rob Chudzinski to be their new head coach? For me, I was on Skype with my girlfriend, slyly checking my email and Twitter when the news rolled in. Not the most momentous of occasions, I suppose, but she got to hear me hoot, holler and scream about a guy with a fun last name. So I certainly hope that was at least moderately enjoyable for her. Now on to our staff’s takes on a series of questions I came up with for the big news.
1) What were your initial reactions when you heard the official news last night?
Scott: The initial reaction was a mesh between shock (I was not expecting it, especially given Whisenhunt’s second interview) and anxiety as I knew that there would only be a small sliver of fans and media alike who supported the move. Had Chud left after 2007, I think fans would have been a lot more receptive — unfortunately, we have the 2008 collapse that’s a little more recent.
Rick: I was stunned when I heard. Like many others, I never thought the Browns would go this route.
Jacob: Puzzled. I certainly had seen the Twitter speculation after his second interview on Wednesday this week. But did I ever really believe that Chudzinski was a viable candidate? Not exactly. The Browns were the only team really expressing much public interest in Chudzinski, so it seemed like a cruel Cleveland joke yet again. This guy? A non-descript assistant at least on the national level who most recently was on a mediocre Panthers team (although I did enjoy having Cam Newton on my fantasy team late this season)? Yuck. I fired off a number of tweets that said “ew” and other similar phrases. It just seemed like the fan backlash was about to erupt.
TD: I can’t say I was thrilled at the Chudzinski hire. Resigned to the fact that it happened was probably the better way of putting it. I mean all of this hemming and hawing and Rob Chudzinski is their big hire?
Kirk: I had actually fallen asleep on the couch watching television, so when I picked up my phone and checked my text messages/e-mails, I did a double take, stunned. Tonight? Chud? After interviewing Whisenhunt for a second time today and reportedly wanting a second look at Zimmer, they select Chudzinski tonight? The timing just seemes odd more than anything. I guess my final choice was that I wanted Zimmer over Arians in a close race.
Andrew: My initial reactions were feelings of doubt, trepidation, and a general sense of feeling underwhelmed by this hire. I think you always want to be excited about a coaching hire, but Rob Chudzinski just isn’t a guy that’s going to excite a lot of people. The good news is, initial reactions are meaningless. If Coach Chud can start winning some games, people will get excited about this hire real quick.
2) Sleeping on it now, what are your overall thoughts on the coaching search and landing at this point? Has it hurt your trust in Haslam/Banner at all?
Kirk: Let me start with the fact that it hasn’t hurt my trust in Haslam and Banner AT ALL. These guys need a chance to land their head coach (check), hire their personnel director/GM, run a draft, and chart a plan in free agency. Until then, debate and discussion about them is fine, but significant judgment of them is premature at best and irresponsible at worst. This coaching search left a way better taste in my mouth than the last two. Apparently, after the three college coaches took their name out of the running, Chudzinski did the best job of that. Take a look at what Chudzinksi helped accomplish in that 10-6 2007 season. He took Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis in his second-to-last effective season, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Joe Jurevicius and made them the 8th highest-scoring offense in the league that year. In Cleveland in ’07 and Carolina last season, Chud’s teams averaged nearly a touchdown per game more than last year’s Browns. How many close games did the Browns lose where one TD made the difference? Five by my count. Sure, he had Cam Newton in Carolina, but he also helped Greg Olsen have a breakout year (843 receiving yards after no more than 612 in any other season). I think Trent is an upgrade over the Williams/Stewart backfield that Rob had in Carolina, and our receiving corps may be deeper than Carolina’s (granted without a stud like Smith). My point overall is that Chud’s been tied to some good offensive success. This is a unproven commodity and a risk, but so was hiring Reid, McCarthy, and Tomlin.
Andrew: I don’t think the hire can reflect on Haslam and Banner because we just don’t have enough information on what happened with Chip Kelly and what is said inside these interviews. But having slept on it, I do feel better about the hire today. I like that Chud is young and energetic, I like that he’s not tied to a system but instead has proven he can adapt to the talent of the players he has, and I like that he’s trying to bring in Norv Turner as OC.
Scott: The search was a mess — you should not have to “reboot” something halfway through. That said, echoing Craig, we were not in the interviews. Kudos for such an expansive search, interviewing roughly four-times more individuals than Mike Holmgren did two years ago. My trust isn’t ruined, per se, but the facade of the big buisness man who gets whatever he wants — for the sake of winning — has long crumbled.
Jacob: The pieces seem to be starting to come together, it appears, or at least somewhat. After actually getting myself to research him a bit more, I was surprised to see that Chudzinski is only 44 years old. Compared to many of the other candidates out there (the 56-year-old Zimmer certainly comes to mind), it seems quite young. For better or for worse. I also didn’t know previously that Chud was the OC for the U when they lost to the Buckeyes in the 2002 title game. That was a tremendous team. And certainly the positive memories returned to my head over night about the fun Browns offense back in ’07. Then, he really did seem to have those head coaching interviews after the very, very impressive 2011 offensive campaign for the Panthers. Supposedly, this guy actually was a legit candidate elsewhere. So I don’t hate it, and a really good cast of coordinators could certainly continue to sway me, so I’m trying hard to be open-minded.
Rick: I had expected that Haslam/Banner knew exactly who they wanted when the took over. And possibly had pseudo agreements in place. This search tells me I was wrong. And that disappoints me a little.
TD: Truthfully, I was completely underwhelmed by this second group of candidates. But the reality is that the Browns may have a new owner, but they are still the Browns. I think we look at our team here as of it is still one of the top franchises in the league. Outside of Cleveland, we are a laughingstock since the return in 1999. Great fan base means nothing when you have gone through 8,000 regime changes in 13 years and none of them has had any kind of real success. So expecting the likes of Bill Cowher, Nick Saban, Jon Gruden, etc to take this job is pipe dream thinking.
3) What are your thoughts on the early rumors of Norv Turner being Chudzinski’s OC? Does that substantially change your impression of this move?
Rick: What’s funny is that I used Norv Turner as my example of the kind of retread coach I didn’t want. Now that was as a head coach of course.
Jacob: Twitter seemed very optimistic very quickly about the idea of Turner returning to his former gig as an offensive coordinator under his old buddy Chudzinski. Norv has been an OC for 7 years under 4 different teams in the NFL: 3 for Dallas, 1 for San Diego, 2 for Miami and 1 more for San Francisco. Those 7 years have been interrupted by 15 years as a head coach for Washington, Oakland and San Diego. So in terms of an experienced coordinator to surround a young first-time head coach, he certainly seems ideal. Personally, does this make me excited and want to buy tickets and jump up and down about the wonders they’ll do for Weeden, Richardson and Co.? Not exactly. It’s not a home run. But for now, it appears to be a hard-hit stand-up double.
Kirk: I think it’s a must to bring in an experienced guy (having significant head coaching experience helps too) to be the offensive coordinator. We saw how disastrous Shurmur’s first season was without an offensive coordinator. I hope Chud lets Turner call the plays too, because we’ve already been on the bad side of your head coach still calling plays with an offensive coordinator too. It certainly helps me swallow this surprising move.
Scott: The offense will undoubtedly be more innovative and vertical, that’s for sure. And if I’m Jordan Cameron, I’m elated. The rub, naturally, will be how many wins it all translates into. For all of the numbers the Browns put up in 2007, they still missed the playoffs.
Andrew: Speaking of Turner….if Chud really brings in Turner, it’s a great move. First of all, while Turner is a miserable head coach, he is a proven commodity as an OC. Secondly, even though he wasn’t a good coach, at least he has some head coaching experience that could help if/when Chud gets a little over his head with something. Having that veteran experience is nothing but a plus for a young 44 year old head coach.
TD: If Norv Turner does come over as the OC, it definitely makes me feel better about the hire. Say what you want about Norv the head coach, but he has always been one of the top offensive minds in the game for 20 years. Being a first time head coach, having a guy like Norv as the OC, a guy he has worked with in the past and trusts, is a smart move.
4) Moving forward, what is the best move for the Browns in terms of a defensive scheme and possible coordinator choice? What would you suggest to Chudzinski and Co.?
TD: The rumors of the switch to a 3-4 and moving away from Dick Jauron worries me. The Browns have spent the last three years drafting for 4-3 and the change in scheme is going to cause yet another defensive roster overhaul and a need to draft in spots they may not have needed to had Jauron been kept on. As for who I want to bring in? I want them to keep Jauron. How’s that?
Kirk: I’m not sure about the specific coordinator, but I would strongly prefer that the Browns stay in a 4-3. They have depth and talent on the D-line (Rubin, Taylor, Winn, Hughes, Sheard, Rucker, Kitchen, etc.) and little depth/talent at linebacker to fill out four spots (D’Qwell, JMJ, Gocong, Maiava, Robertson, Fort). I just don’t see the benefit of adding a massive defensive overhaul into the mix.
Andrew: Well, if I had it my way the Browns would stick to the 4-3 and I would keep Dick Jauron. Man, can you imagine having Turner and Jauron as coordinators for a rookie coach? How impressive would that be? But alas, it sounds like Jauron is out and it sounds (based on those pesky internet rumors) like Coach Chud wants a 3-4 defense. If I could suggest something to them, I would suggest they read Rick’s article about switching from 4-3 to 3-4.
Scott: I still feel a switch from 4-3 would prove to be a step back for what was undoubtedly the strength of this team. That said, the draft is coming, and there are plenty of linebackers who could easily improve this team. I fear the trading away, however, of guys like Athyba Rubin or Phil Taylor with the hopes of adding picks to get this done — similar to what Heckert did with Kamerion Wimbley — and that would really rub fans the wrong way.
Rick: I really hope the rumors are false and the Browns are not determined to swith up to a 3-4. And please don’t make your DC choice based just on who can implement that defense.
Jacob: I’m a strong proponent of doing the scheme that suits your personnel best. Obviously, that’s not a typical style in the NFL, where coordinators, coaches and executives love doing things their way and enforcing their favored scheme onto the players they have. So, in my mind, the Browns’ players are clearly best suited for a 4-3, as Rick wrote eloquently already on this site. The D-line with Taylor, Rubin, Hughes, Winn, Sheard, Parker and others is above average already and one of the strengths of this time. The linebackers, outside of Jackson, are not. That’s also the case for the secondary outside of Joe Haden. I would have loved to keep Dick Jauron, as I’m sure many others will echo. For now, without knowing who exactly the coordinator options might be, I just hope it’s someone with a very solid resume (not necessarily as extensive as Jauron/Turner, but hopefully more than Chudzinski at least). And then in the draft and free agency, no matter the scheme, a focus should immediately be placed on linebackers (especially on the outside) and improving the secondary depth. I’ve already written about that several times too.
5) Are you overall more confident in the Browns future today than you were on Oct. 13, 2012, the day the Browns beat Cincinnati and two days before Haslam officially became the team owner?
Jacob: It’s an easy answer to say no. It’s also a safety valve to just blindly say — “Oh I trust Haslam and Banner and will support their choices no matter what.” So for now, I’ll give it an old-fashioned “slightly,” just based on the hope for personnel upgrades this offseason. Yes, I’ll keep going to games no matter how bad it is and I certainly do sincerely what Chudzinski to do well, and quickly. But I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be the case in 2013. It’s going to be a slow year, I’m guessing, and that will upset many fans after Haslam’s initial message of hopefully competing immediately next season. I just hope we can see improvements in the young players most importantly, a firm city-wide belief in the young coach and not as many struggles in Year 1 as we’ve already seen so many times for the new Browns. Here’s hoping.
Andrew: I actually am more confident now. While I wouldn’t have hired Chudzinski and I’m not thrilled right now with the hire, I still think he’s going to be a better coach than Pat Shurmur was (really going out on a limb on this one). So I wouldn’t say my confidence is high, but yes, it’s higher than it was when Haslam officially took over the team. I’m not confident in the future, but I’m at least hopeful.
Rick: I can’t say that I am more or less confident than before Haslam took over. I can say that I am less confident than I was a month ago in this group.
Scott: I don’t have reason to be. It’s another reset, one that took a “reboot” of its own. I’ll need to see proof. Tangible proof.
TD: I feel the same way about the Browns future today as I did in October. The Chudzinski hire is not awe inspiring but he should be a guy who can get the most of out Brandon Weeden (considering what he did for the original Weeden, Derek Anderson). I, like so many others, was jus hoping for a sexier hire.
Kirk: I’m as confident as the moment that I found out Haslam would be the owner of this team. We’re going to see a lot of changes this coming year, and that’s a good thing. Lerner had this franchise in a toxic waste dump state, and it’s going to take a lot of purging to remove all of that. Browns fans deserve a winner, but they must have some level of patience to allow someone to grow their roots, from owner on down to head coach. We can’t continue to charge the future with the crimes of the past, or we’ll continue to run in place as a franchise and a city.