“Chud” is back.
And in charge.
Rob Chudzinski has joined the Browns’ coaching staff for the third time in a decade. This time, he’s the 14th full-time head coach in franchise history.
He was hired Thursday night, and will be introduced at a news conference this morning at 11.
Chudzinski, 44, was born and raised in Toledo and grew up a huge Browns fan. He was Cleveland’s tight ends coach in 2004 and offensive coordinator in 2007-08.
He spent the last two years as coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, building an exciting offense around quarterback Cam Newton. He beat out at least seven other candidates that interviewed since owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired Pat Shurmur on Dec. 31.
Chudzinski, who has never been a head coach, emerged from left field in the search – he wasn’t connected with any of the other seven coaching vacancies across the league – and must have impressed Haslam and Banner in his interview Wednesday.
Chudzinski will bring veteran coach Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, FoxSports.com reported. Turner, who was fired last week as head coach of the Chargers after six years, is considered one of the best coordinators in recent NFL history. Chudzinski was assistant head coach/tight ends coach under Turner before leaving for Carolina.
FoxSports.com also reported Scott Turner, Norv’s son, will be part of the staff and the defensive scheme will shift to a 3-4, which would require an adjustment in personnel after two years building for a 4-3. Scott Turner was quality control coach in Carolina.
Chudzinski was an NFL assistant for nine years after working for 10 at the University of Miami, where he played tight end. Browns coach Butch Davis provided his NFL start in 2004.
Chudzinski returned to Cleveland in 2007 as Romeo Crennel’s offensive coordinator, and he was an instant hit.
Chudzinski called the plays during the best offensive season since the Browns returned in 1999, as they posted the most yards, passing yards and points of the expansion era. The Browns went 10-6, barely missed the playoffs and ranked eighth in the NFL in offense (351.3 yards) and eighth in scoring (25.1 points).
Quarterback Derek Anderson, receiver Braylon Edwards, tight end Kellen Winslow and left tackle Joe Thomas earned trips to the Pro Bowl. Anderson threw 29 touchdowns, while Edwards, Winslow and running back Jamal Lewis had 1,000-yard seasons.
The production fell off drastically in 2008 as the Browns dealt with a series of injuries. They ranked 31st in yardage (249.1 per game) and tied for 30th in scoring (14.5 points), and Chudzinski left after general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel were fired.
Thomas and receiver Joshua Cribbs are the only Browns left on offense from 2008, and Cribbs is set to become a free agent.
The selection of Chudzinski was a surprise.
The Browns began the search last week in Arizona and seemed set on landing Oregon’s Chip Kelly. But he stayed in school.
The Browns also lost out on Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, who got an extension from the Nittany Lions, and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone, who was hired by the Bills.
The Browns also interviewed former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman.
Whisenhunt was in town Thursday for a second interview, but the less experienced Chudzinski got the job.
Haslam said last week he was targeting certain qualities for his first coaching hire.
“We want an individual who is a strong leader, who’s tough because this is a tough business, but also is smart, very organized, has great attention to detail and is aggressive,” he said.
After two years in San Diego, Chudzinski joined Carolina as coordinator in 2011 and teamed with Newton to turn around an ineffective offense. The Panthers set team records for yards (6,237) and first downs (345) a year after franchise lows in the categories. They went from last in the NFL in yards to seventh.
Newton became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards, set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14 and was named offensive rookie of the year. The Panthers also became the first team in league history with three 700-yard rushers in DeAngelo Williams (836), Jonathan Stewart (761) and Newton (706).
Chudzinski interviewed for head coaching jobs last year, which got him a raise and extension from the Panthers. Carolina regressed a bit in Newton’s second year, ranking 12th in yardage (360.7) and tied for 18th in scoring (22.3).
The Browns will shift their focus to finding a general manager/director of player personnel to replace Tom Heckert, who was fired last week.
NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi remains the favorite. He worked with Banner in Philadelphia in 1997-98 and was in Cleveland’s personnel department from 1987-95.
One of the top priorities for the new regime is deciding what to do at quarterback.
Banner reportedly isn’t a fan of Brandon Weeden, the No. 22 pick in April who threw 14 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions for a 72.6 passer rating that ranked 29th. But Chudzinski had success with Anderson and San Diego’s Philip Rivers throwing from the pocket and might see potential in Weeden’s big arm and ability to get rid of the ball quickly.