Chud looks to be solid hire for Browns

Lost in the confusing shuffle of the Browns’ roster has been the most important change of all.

Rob Chudzinski’s arrival as head coach last January will prove to be more significant than any free-agent signing or draft choice. If he can do what five other coaches that preceded him since expansion in 1999 failed to accomplish, it will be a major step toward a return to respectability.

The challenge of turning around the sagging fortunes of the franchise is daunting. A long history of poor drafts has left Chudzinski with a roster mixed with some promise but many question marks.

First impressions from six weeks of training camp indicate that Chudzinski has a better-than-average chance of success if for no reason other than he’s not Pat Shurmur. That might be considered harsh, but it’s a truth that’s been played out each day since camp opened in late July.

Shurmur was a mistake hire by former team president Mike Holmgren, who was a close friend of Shurmur’s late uncle Fritz. Shurmur’s hire was a twist on nepotism, which is to say never hire the son of a friend.

Shurmur was a disaster from the start. He tried in his first season to coordinate the offense while wearing the hat of a head coach. Bad mistake; very bad.

The offense was a train wreck all season. Shurmur struggled to get the proper personnel on the field and plays were often snapped just before the expiration of the play clock.

On one infamous play tight end Alex Smith lined up as a lead blocker in the backfield when fullback Owen Marecic was off the field. Shurmur wasn’t aware of the mistake by the time Smith fumbled a handoff (the Browns recovered).

Some men are cut out to be head coaches, while others are coordinators at best. There are those who will say Shurmur never distinguished himself as a competent candidate to be a head coach during his time as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. The lack of development by Rams quarterback Sam Bradford may lend credence to that belief.

Shurmur’s biggest weakness was his fixation on critics in the media. He knew each one of the regular reporters and had opinions of each of them. He could be cold and short with those he didn’t trust, a number that grew in his second season with the team.

Shurmur needed to worry less about the media and concentrate more on his job. That might not have bought him another year in Cleveland, but he would have left town having gained more respect from outsiders.

Two things stand out about Chudzinski – he doesn’t worry about the media and he’s run a smooth-sailing ship to date. Chudzinski is what you see – easy going and not concerned about criticism. It would be a surprise if he plays favorites among reporters, glancing nasty looks at ones he doesn’t like.

On the field, the change is like night to day. The Browns actually look like a coordinated team. The proper personnel are almost always on the field. Plays are getting off quicker than in previous seasons, which has to be a blessing for quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Football is about talent and which team has more of it, but you can’t win with superior talent if it’s not handled properly. Chudzinski might not shock the NFL world by leading the Browns to their first playoff appearance since 2002, but he won’t embarrass himself either.

Coaching is a huge part of winning football games; perhaps more so than in any of the major sports. There are weaknesses that can be exploited, and good ones (like Bill Belichick) know exactly how to win the game before kickoff.

It appears the Browns might have made the right choice with Chudzinski.