After interviewing, preparing to interview, and keeping an eye on several big names in their search to replace recently fired head coach Pat Shurmur, the Cleveland Browns went with a surprise choice in Rob Chudzinski. The Toledo, Ohio native, who coached the Browns’ tight ends in 2004, was also the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, the Browns went 10-6, the franchise’s best record since the NFL re-established the Browns name in 1999. “Chud” extracted a surprising season out of quarterback Derek Anderson, but moved on after the offense disappointed the following year.
After spending two seasons as the San Diego Chargers’ assistant head coach/tight ends, Chudzinski was hired as the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator in 2011. That opportunity came just in time to guide first-overall pick Cam Newton to several rookie quarterback records, and run an offense that set an NFL record by becoming the first in league history with three different players who ran for more than 700 yards — DeAngelo Williams (836), Jonathan Stewart (761), and Newton (706).
But in 2012, the Panthers’ offense disappointed — especially in the running game. After the 2011 season, Chudzinski interviewed for open head coaching positions with the St. Louis, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before returning to the Panthers. He had not interviewed for any of the eight openings at the position before talking with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner. But the man who grew up rooting for the old Browns long before they moved to Baltimore following the 1995 season wowed Haslam and Banner and got the job one day after a Wednesday interview.
The Browns had also talked with Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt (who was brought in for a second interview on Thursday), and several other candidates. They were set to meet with Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians.
Reports indicate that Chudzinski will look to bring former San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner on as his offensive coordinator. The two men worked together in San Diego, and Turner’s son Scott worked for Chudzinski with the Panthers. According to multiple reports, the Browns also intend to move from their current 4-3 approach to a 3-4 style “attack” defense. Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who interviewed with the Browns last week, might be pried away from the Valley of the Sun for the right price and with the right title.