From main fan to main man

BEREA – It was hard to separate the 44-year-old coach of the Browns from the kid that wanted to go to the Dawg Pound as a fan 30 years ago.

The emotion that Rob Chudzinski exhibited after being introduced as the 14th coach in Browns history highlighted a press conference Friday morning at the team’s facility. Chudzinski, a Toledo native and lifetime fan of the Browns, exuded pride, humbleness and excitement about the challenge as he sat between owner James Haslam and CEO Joe Banner

“I was the kid that was in the backyard playing and pretending I was Ozzie Newsome or Brian Sipe or the greats that played for Cleveland,” Chudzinski said. “The tradition of this franchise is such that the people here want a winner, and I’m here and I would not miss this for the world – the opportunity to come back and bring a winner back to Cleveland.”

The Browns signed Chudzinski to a four-year contract. He’s the sixth coach since the expansion team of 1999.

Chudzinski first interviewed earlier this week after the Browns decided to no longer pursue Oregon coach Chip Kelly. Haslam and Banner flew to Chudzinski’s home near the Charlotte area Thursday for a second interview.

Chudzinski was on the Browns’ list from the start of the search to replace Pat Shurmur. Haslam is convinced he landed the right man for the job.

“I think we felt very positive that Rob was the man,” Haslam said. “Joe and I laid out 11 days ago that this was going to be a disciplined, deliberate process. It’s obvious that it’s very fluid and we’re going to take our time and make sure.

“Joe and I both come from organizations where there’s been little change in terms of leadership. This organization has had a lot of change in terms of leadership, so it was exceptionally important that we get that right. I think we were way down the road with Rob, but we wanted to spend a little more time to make sure he was the right guy. An hour of the way through dinner, we felt like that definitely this was the right guy.”

Chudzinski began his NFL coaching career with the Browns as tight ends coach in 2004. He returned as offensive coordinator in 2007 after two seasons coaching tight ends for the San Diego Chargers.

Chudzinski left the Browns after the 2008 season when Butch Davis was fired. After two seasons as assistant head coach/tight ends coach of the Chargers, he became the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator in 2011.

Chudzinski interviewed for openings last season. He feels that nearly 20 years of coaching (he started in 1994 as a graduate assistant at the University of Miami) has prepared him for this moment.

“I think the right opportunity matched up and the right fit happened here,” Chudzinski said. “The vision matched completely. Every year I’ve gotten better as a coach, and the experiences I’ve had and the coaches I’ve been able to be around.

“You go back from playing for Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson – played and worked for Dennis – Butch Davis at Miami and Larry Coker. You go through the list and get into the NFL with Marty Schottenheimer and Romeo (Crennel) and Norv (Turner). I’ve learned from the recent experiences with (Panthers coach) Ron (Rivera) in going to a brand new job and starting from the very beginning and seeing the things Ron had to do.”

Chudzinski faces a tall challenge with the Browns, who’ve had just two winning records in the last 14 seasons. He’s known for his offensive thinking and ability to call plays. He had one successful season with Browns quarterback Derek Anderson in 2007, and Cam Newton had a spectacular Rookie of the Year season with the Panthers in 2011.

“If you talk to people in the business, he’s regarded as one of the brightest if not the brightest young minds in the business,” Haslam said. “He’s tremendously innovative and as you all know, Joe and I are very bottom-line people. Over the last two years Rob was the offensive coordinator at Carolina. They scored 88 touchdowns, and I’m always a big believer in what that means, what’s that compared to? Well, we scored 48.”

Chudzinski described his overall philosophy as aggressive. Get after the quarterback on defense and a vertical passing game that would seem to fit into quarterback Brandon Weeden’s style on offense.

“We’re going to be an attacking offense and an attacking defense,” Chudzinski said. “On both sides of the ball we’re going to build on a foundation of fundamentals and technique. We’re going to give these guys great coaches. We’re going to give them the tools they can utilize to win games.”

It all sounds so good in January.