Chudzinski, alongside top-notch assistants, primed to turn around Browns

By Tom Hardesty | Assistant sports editor Published:

Eventually, the Cleveland Browns are going to hire the right coach at the right time.

Since their expansion rebirth in 1999, the Browns have twice flirted with turning the corner into a consistent playoff contender. They made the playoffs as a Wild Card team in 2002 under Butch Davis, then finished 10-6 and just missed the playoffs in 2007 under Romeo Crennel.

But each time, they slid back into the depths of the NFL's abyss the following season, leading to coaching shakeups that have plagued the Browns the past 14 seasons.

The long-suffering fans of this franchise wonder when -- or if -- this misery will ever end.

But something tells me with the recent hiring of Rob Chudzinski as the Browns' new head coach, it just might.

Chudzinski has never been an NFL head coach -- something that prompts groans of "here we go again" from many in Northeast Ohio -- but his track record as an offensive coach in the league is impeccable.

Chudzinski was Cleveland's offensive coordinator in that 2007 season, and under his tutelage the Browns had one of the top offenses in the NFL.

The Browns ranked eighth overall in the league offensively and sent four offensive players to the Pro Bowl on their way to that 10-6 record.

Later, as Carolina's offensive coordinator, Chudzinski took over an offense that was abysmal in 2010 -- the year prior to his arrival -- and in just one season turned it into one of the most dangerous offenses in the league behind rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

Chudzinski likes to throw the ball downfield, and in Cleveland he has a ready-made quarterback to do just that in the strong-armed Brandon Weeden, who was a classic gunslinger of a quarterback during his college days at Oklahoma State. This downfield passing attack should, in turn, open up the running game for tailback Trent Richardson, giving the Browns a true "arm and hammer" offense that Chudzinski employed so effectively in 2007 behind journeyman quarterback Derek Anderson and aging running back Jamal Lewis.

If Chudzinski could squeeze that much production out of an offense built around Anderson and Lewis in 2007, you have to really like his chances of far exceeding that with second-year stalwarts Weeden and Richardson.

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There's no question that Chudzinski is one of the bright offensive minds in the NFL. But for good measure, the Browns brought in former Chargers head coach Norv Turner to coordinate their offense under Chudzinski.

Turner's hiring is not a trivial matter. While he has been fairly mediocre as a head coach, Turner is as good an offensive coordinator as there is in the league. He coordinated the Cowboys' offense of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin that won back-to-back Super Bowls in the early 1990s. And, like Chudzinski, Turner favors an attack-oriented offense that should please Browns fans following several seasons of gut-wrenching offensive play on the lakefront.

Then there is the hiring of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who had the same position with the Cardinals the last two seasons. Horton was the Steelers' secondary coach from 2004-2010, and when it comes to defense in the NFL, the conversation begins and ends with Pittsburgh. Horton's Steelers background should serve him extremely well in Cleveland.

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While the names of the usual suspects came up during the Browns' head coaching search -- Nick Saban, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher -- it's interesting that new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam decided to go in the complete opposite direction with what many considered a fringe candidate in Chudzinski, an unproven commodity as a head coach.

Many thought Haslam would make a splash with his first hand-picked head coach and hire a big name, or at least a proven NFL head coach such as Ken Whisenhunt or Lovie Smith, both of whom have taken teams to the Super Bowl. After the failure of former coordinators taking their first turn as head coach with the Browns in Chris Palmer, Romeo Crennel and Pat Shurmur, the last thing most Browns fan wanted was another first-time head coach taking over their favorite team.

But in the Browns' first incarnation, then-owner Art Modell -- on a hunch -- hired Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick as Browns head coach in 1991 over former Browns player and assistant Bill Cowher, who was the overwhelming fans choice over the little-known Belichick. Turns out that hunch was correct -- for New England, where Belichick has won three Super Bowls as Patriots head coach. But because Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore following the 1995 season, Belichick turned out to be the right coach at the wrong time in Cleveland.

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I'm not sure what to make of the state of Pennsylvania's lawsuit against the NCAA, filed in hopes of overturning -- or at least mitigating -- the crippling sanctions levied against the Penn State football program stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child-rape scandal and ensuing coverup at the university.

The lawsuit -- which Penn State says it has nothing to do with -- is either shameless political posturing on the part of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, or a "fight the good fight" effort against the collegiate governing body that seems to wield unchecked power over its member institutions.

It's not going to break anyone's heart to see the NCAA get dragged into court and have to defend itself for once, but Corbett has to be very careful here. He is running a real risk of giving the impression he is more concerned with the welfare of the Nittany Lions football program than he is with the welfare of the victims of child rape, perpetrated by an employee of the state of Pennsylvania no less. Considering the public relations nightmare Penn State has already endured and continues to endure, Corbett at the very least is doing the school no favors with this lawsuit.

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