CLEVELAND - The Browns have always been a part of Rob Chudzinski's life. Now, he's the man in charge.
Chudzinski, who spent the past two seasons as Carolina's offensive co-ordinator, was introduced as the club's sixth fulltime coach on Friday, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the 44-year-old who as a kid pretended he played tight end for the Browns during games in his backyard in Toledo, Ohio.
"It is a dream come true," Chudzinski said. "I can't wait to get started."
Chudzinski will inherit a young roster he'll try to develop into a contender with the Browns, who have lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons and made the playoffs only once since 1999.
Chudzinski previously worked as an assistant with the Browns, most recently as their offensive co-ordinator in 2008. Although he has no previous head coaching experience, owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are confident they hired the best possible candidate available to turn their club into a consistent winner.
"I would not miss the chance for the world." Chudzinski said. "We're going to win here."
The Browns hauled their search to find the 14th coach in franchise history to Arizona and back. They talked to high-profile college coaches, NFL assistants and a fired pro coach who took a team to a Super Bowl.
None of them was hired.
Instead, Chudzinski became their pick.
"I believe we came back with the best coach for the Cleveland Browns," said Haslam, who flew to Charlotte, N.C. on Thursday night with Banner to offer Chudzinski the job. "He is one of the brightest young coaches in the business."
Chudzinski's first move will be to hire his staff. He will immediately meet with the assistants currently working for the Browns. Chudzinski would not comment on any possible candidates to become his co-ordinators. There are reports he is considering former San Diego coach Norv Turner to run his offence. Chudzinski worked for Turner with the Chargers.
"I have a plan in place," he said. "We're going to get a great staff. We have a young group of players. This is going to be about the process. Lots of people are worried about the end result, but this is going to be the right process to get us where we want to be."
Now that they've hired their coach, Haslam and Banner will focus on finding a new general manager to help pick players for Chudzinski, who will be involved in finding the GM.
The new coach — "Chud," as he's known to players and friends — worked with the Browns' tight ends in 2004 and was their offensive co-ordinator in 2007, when the team won 10 games — their most since an expansion rebirth in 1999. He was released when Romeo Crennel was fired in 2008.
Chudzinski said when he walked off the field after the final game that season he knew he would be coming back to Cleveland "someday, somehow."
Chudzinski replaces Pat Shurmur, another first-time coach when he was hired, who was fired on Dec. 31 after a 5-11 season. For the past two years, Chudzinski has worked with talented Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and resuscitated Carolina's offence, which was one of the league's worst before he arrived.
When Haslam and Banner embarked on their coaching search as 2013 began, the pair vowed they would wait as long as necessary to find "the right coach" for Cleveland. They promised to give their new coach final say over the roster and planned to pair him with an executive to help pick players.
Chudzinski wasn't seen by many as an option.
And then he became the choice.
Haslam said Chudzinski's passion for the Browns was a bonus, but he had all the credentials and characteristics they were looking for in a new coach.
"If Rob was from Plano, Texas, we would have hired him," Haslam said.
Chudzinski said he wants a team that attacks on both sides of the ball. He would not comment on any of Cleveland's players, and sidestepped a question about rookie Brandon Weeden, who had an uneven first season with the Browns.
Chudzinski interviewed with the team on Wednesday, when the club also visited with Cincinnati defensive co-ordinator Mike Zimmer. Chudzinski appeared to be a long shot for the job, not because he wasn't qualified, but because it was thought Haslam wanted to make a big splash with his first coaching hire.
However, Chudzinski wowed Haslam and Banner during his meeting and the team decided it was time to end its search in its second week. Haslam said 10 minutes into the interview that he nodded at Banner that they had found their man.
In his first season in Carolina, Chudzinski turned Newton, the No. 1 overall draft pick, loose and the Panthers set club records for total yards (6,237) and first downs (345). Carolina also scored 48 touchdowns after getting just 17 in the season before Chudzinski arrived. The Panthers jumped from last in the league in total yardage to seventh, the biggest improvement since 1999.
Haslam pointed out the Panthers scored 88 touchdowns the past two seasons. Cleveland scored 44.
Following last season, Chudzinski interviewed for head coaching jobs with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay before returning to Carolina.
In getting the Browns' job, Chudzinski was picked over Zimmer, Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, fired Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt and Cardinals defensive co-ordinator Ray Horton. Whisenhunt was in Cleveland for a second interview on Thursday, and appeared to be the front-runner. The Browns also were expected to interview Indianapolis offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians.
Chudzinski's hiring may have shocked some Cleveland fans, many of whom at fantasies about Nick Saban or Jon Gruden or Kelly brining his supersonic offence to the NFL.
But his selection is in keeping with at least one of Banner's past moves. When he was in Philadelphia's front office, Banner went outside the box and hired Green Bay assistant Andy Reid, a relative unknown who spent 14 seasons with the Eagles.
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