When Rob Chudzinski was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, he called it his dream job. So far, his tenure has gone along like a dream as well. He has handled everything extremely well and even gone above and beyond in multiple situations, which has really worked to endear himself to the fans as well as the media covering him. They have also been both prepared for how to handle injuries and prevent them with some luck mixed in and in the first preseason game, the Chud-led Browns came out firing on all cylinders and looked good in their debut. How far Chud can take this team remains to be seen, but he has come out of the gate extremely well and built a ton of momentum that suggests this team could be in good hands.
Many fans looked at Chud as a third or fourth option, hoping for coaches like Nick Saban (never mind he is already his 60s and was a disaster in Miami), Chip Kelly (no NFL experience whatsoever), Jon Gruden (Tony Dungy did not build the team for him), and there were still some holding a torch for Bill Cowher (has not coached in almost a decade and when he was a head coach, he was the Bobby Cox of the NFL). Even though Chud ran the best offense the Browns have had since they came back when he was the offensive coordinator, there was some level of disappointment amongst fans and the media initially and Chud knew it coming through the door.
Since then, from his first press conference to this week’s preseason game, Chud has been bringing people on board to what he has started in Cleveland. His first move was talking about being a Browns fan growing up in Toledo and the expanding on that to discuss how the new look offense would be more aggressive and attack down the field. The local connection worked for a lot of people or at least made them willing to listen to what he was going to do and then the talk of an aggressive offense was music to the ears of many after being frustrated with Brian Daboll and then Pat Shurmur. And unlike with some coaches, fans had something to reference with the 2007 team which sent five offensive players to the Pro Bowl, none of which save Joe Thomas has experienced the same level of excellence since. The most important thing he mentioned was the fact he was going to tailor his offense to the talents of the team rather than forcing a system on players, which is what the West Coast Offense was doing in large part with this team the past two years.
The offense Chud ran in 2007 looked to be a terrific fit for what e Browns had in house as well as what they could add to this team. Brandon Weeden could be the same type of quarterback as Derek Andeorson, but hopefully better and more consistent. Trent Richardson could be an even better version of Jamal Lewis while the combination of Josh Gordon and Greg Little could give them some of the same looks as Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicious.
The Browns have the best offensive line since 2007 as well with Alex Mack, John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz replacing Hank Fraley, Eric Steinbach, and Ryan Tucker. The notable area the 2007 had that the current version still needs to sort out is tight end. The combination of Kellen Winslow and Steve Heiden was a huge reason that offense was successful. Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge have a lot to prove and the likelihood is that they will use those two as well as Davonne Bess and David Nelson to try to close that gap.
The next move that was integral in bringing people on board to the franchise was the announcement that Norv Turner was coming in with Chud as his offensive coordinator. For all of his flaws as a head coach, Turner’s resume as a coordinator is as good as there is and he brings a ton of credibility to the team in addition to being a good a play caller. This enabled the Browns to have a ton of quality input on the offensive side of the ball, prevent Turner’s offense from getting stale with time and giving Chud the freedom to being an effective game manager, which is something the Browns lost when they lot lost Mangini. Pat Shurmur insisted on trying to call plays and manage the game, which proved to be costly in several key moments.
After being considered for a few head coaching jobs including the Browns, Ray Horton a big coup for this regime to be brought in as a defensive coordinator and really helped make some fans feel more comfortable with this situation. There were segments of the fan base that would have been happy to have Horton as the head coach, so getting him as the guy running the defense was huge. Though he likely will not be here longer than a year or maybe two, Horton should be able to establish a scheme as well as a mindset with this defense they can carry forward, whether it be with a disciple of Horton’s or someone brought in from the outside. Horton learned the Pittsburgh system employed under Dick Lebeau and then adapted it when he went to Arizona as their coordinator. With Horton in place, the Browns had a fantastic set of coordinators and easily the most credible staff since the team moved.
During OTAs, Browns players came out with support for Chud, being complementary both in what he brings in terms of attitude and the staff in general, but also because of the offensive system in place. From Weeden to Richardson and beyond, players were quick to opine the offense was easier to grasp and a better fit for their strengths, which are both extremely important. In addition to that obviously sounding good to the ears of fans, it also increased the confidence of the players and that confidence only helps them get better faster.
When training camp opened, Chud was focused on helping his team get better and get prepared for the season, but he was loose enough and aware enough to engage the fans and make them part of the experience. He started with simple things like having fans get riled up for specific situations or engaging them about cheering as well as taking time after practice to shake hands, sign autographs and take pictures, which is not notable on its face. What stood put and endeared him to some was when Jim Brown was watching practice, he pulled a fan out of the crowd wearing his jersey and took him to meet the legend. It did not feel planned and was purely off the cuff.
In the practice at the stadium in front of over 24,000 Browns fans, Chud concluded practice by having a 5-year old cancer patient run the last play and score a touchdown. An idea he credited to his own 5-year old son, Chud gave a young fan the memory of a lifetime and ended practice on a great note for everyone in the stadium and around the league as it made national news. In both situations, Chud demonstrated how much he seems to be a fan of the team and understands how much the fans of the Browns love this team.
Everything done up to this point might have been undone had the Browns come out and laid an egg against the Rams in the preseason opener with fans throwing their hands up in the air in frustration and seeing the “same old Browns”. Fortunately, the team not only came out and looked prepared and effective, but the offense, defense, and special teams all had big contributions in the first quarter with the first units in the game. It remains to be seen how good the Rams will actually be in the regular season and the Browns could come right back next week and look terrible, but the fans have something to be excited about and being able to associate that success with Chud only works to help him.
First impressions matter and to this point, Chud has made every one count since being the head coach of Cleveland. They have to carry that over into week one against the Miami Dolphins, but there is little reason to think the team will not come out ready to compete in a game they can and maybe should win. If the team comes out flat and looks bad, people will be quick to complain about Chud, but because of everything he has done to this point, there should be a lot of excitement and fan noise from the crowd, which should help create a home field advantage that has been noticeably absent since this stadium opened in 1999. A big time home atmosphere should only work to help the team perform better and perhaps have a negative impact on the visiting Dolphins. If the team is able to come out and start the season with a win, there might be a movement for a parade or perhaps beautification of Chud in Cleveland.
The fan base is not only excited but starving for a Browns team they can be proud to rally around and support. If Chud continues to give them reason to believe in him as well as the team, the sky could be the limit as far as his support will go. There are still areas of this team that need to be addressed or proven, but it does appear to be heading in the right direction and despite being a first time head coach, Chud appears poised to come out and lead an improved team that will look better on the field and in the standings. He has been a natural and handled everything from the X’s and O’s to the fans and the media beautifully so far in his tenure with the Browns. Just how high and how far he can take this team remains to be seen, but the early indications are good and everything seems to be headed in a positive direction, which is not the case with all of the newly hired head coaches entering this season.