“Judge of your natural character by what you do in your dreams”- Ralph Waldo Emerson.
For Cleveland Browns first year Head Coach Rob Chudzinski, this is all so fitting! So many of us grew up, playing football in our back yards, dressed head to toe with our favorite teams jersey, pretending to be our favorite teams player, scoring touchdown after touchdown, and celebrating winning the Super Bowl.
When we could, we went to the games with our dad’s and friends and cheered our teams on, soaked up all the atmosphere, so we could go home to our backyards, and get better and better in our make believe stadiums and scenarios. For almost all of us, regardless of how passionate we were, or are about our teams, the game of football, the backyard was as far as we would ever go to realizing that dream. And for most, our playing careers ended only getting to experience, at best, Friday Night Lights, as we played in our home towns and graduated, knowing our passion for the game and team would shift from a dream, to merely a fan or spectator. Our passion wouldn’t change as we soak up every off season, every draft, every game, year after year after year!
Imagine if your favorite team was the Cleveland Browns. Imagine that you are now that fan, who never got to live that dream, and for years, or decades, you’ve been starved for winning, success, consistency, to taste the playoffs again, to eventually win the Super Bowl. Cleveland Browns fans are loyal, (perhaps to a fault) passionate, starved for a winner. This past offseason, as a new ownership group with majority owner Jimmy Haslam, and CEO Joe Banner conducted interviews, the fans were once again passionate about endorsing their own candidates with the likes of Nick Saban, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and Chip Kelly.
None came to fruition. Then out of nowhere, on Jan 10, 2013, the Browns hired Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Many were stunned, and some disappointed, saying that the Browns were just settling. However, if you step back and do some research you may come to the conclusion that hiring Chudzinski, was the best decision and the best fit for Cleveland for the long haul!
Coach Chudzinski was born, grew up, and attended high school in Toledo, Ohio. Just like the other kids, Rob Chudzinski was playing in the back yard and wearing his Browns gear, “Pretending I was Ozzie Newsome, catching the TD pass, or when running I was Greg Pruitt”. Now for him to become the head coach of the Browns he says, “It’s a dream come true, it’s an organization I hold so dearly.”
Having played football in high school at Toledo St. John, Chudzinski moved on to play tight end at University of Miami from 1986-90 and was a three-year starter and a member of two national championship teams (1987 and 1989).
He then went on to coach at his alma mater in Miami, for the Hurricanes. After serving 7 previous years as both a graduate assistant and a tight ends coach, his final 3 years at Miami were spent serving as the offensive coordinator. During his three seasons as offensive coordinator, the Hurricanes played in a BCS Bowl game each year, including two National Championship appearances. Chudzinski helped shape future NFL Pro Bowlers Bubba Franks, Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee, Bryant McKinnie, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow.
In the NFL, Coach Chudzinski has had stops in Cleveland, 2004 as the Browns TE’s coach and 2007-08 as offensive coordinator. In 2007, he was the signal caller for Cleveland’s best offense in terms of total yards (5,621), passing yards (3,726) and points scored (402) since the club’s return in 1999. It was the only year the Browns have made the playoffs since their return to the league in 1999, with him calling the plays.
Since leaving the Browns in 2008, he’s made stops in San Diego, and the two previous years running the offense in Carolina for the Panthers as their offensive coordinator. Again, in Carolina in 2011, during Chudzinski’s first season with the Panthers, the team set club records for total yards (6,237) and first downs (345), one year after experiencing franchise lows in both categories. Carolina also scored 48 touchdowns after recording 17 the year prior to Chudzinski’s arrival.
He knows how to run an offense, that puts up big numbers, how to maximize talent, and help players produce career numbers. Now, he has an opportunity in his first stint as a Head Coach in the NFL, to bring winning back to Cleveland, to put his talents to good use for Browns fans, and give them something to look forward to on game days.
When coaching throughout his career, whether in college or the NFL, “I was always watching what was happening here in Cleveland from afar” said Chudzinski. “The tradition of this franchise is such that the people here want to win, and I’m here, and I would not miss this for the world, the opportunity to come back and bring a winner back to Cleveland.” No doubt that came from a place as a child in the backyards, through teenage and college years, to where he is now, as the Browns #1 fan and Head Coach!
There is immense pressure to win in Cleveland, as those of Coach Chudzinski’s era, have only experienced, “The Drive, The Fumble, and The Move.” For these fans. their franchise was taken from them, only to be replaced with an organization that has been to playoffs only one time since it’s return in 1999. So the weight is tremendous on his shoulders, as he wants to bring a winner back to Cleveland.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character – give him power.” Cleveland’s new Head Coach, will now have his character tested in way’s he’s never imagined. And so far, as we watched the Browns at their training camp in Berea, and in the pre-season, it appears that Chudzinski is changing the culture, the tempo, and the enthusiasm is building towards a winner. The air smells and tastes a little different at a Browns practice. They look professional, act like professionals, and seem to be more disciplined and hold one another accountable, both as coaches and as players.
Here’s what some of the Browns core players shared with Pro Player Insiders about their new head coach.
PPI: What does it mean to you to have your Head Coach be someone that is an Ohio native that grew up as a Browns fan?
TJ Ward: You know it’s a little bit different, because he is from Ohio and he knows the history, the heritage, and everything that’s involved with this Browns’ organization. Bringing that to the table, he’s that more passionate about winning, not only for us, and his coaches and the team, but for the city and everything involved, and the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland, so that makes it a little bit better.
Greg Little: That is really unique. Especially to have him be from the area, and him as a fan is really special, so you know winning is always going to be held to a higher standard in his heart as well.
Joe Haden: It’s meant a lot, because he has a lot of passion. We can tell in the way he coaches us. He’s a really, really good coach, and he’s a players’ coach. The door’s always open and he’s easy to relate to. He listens to the players and we listen to him, and he has everybody on the teams’ respect….People can tell fake people….. our coach, he’s a real dude, and we really like him and he makes you wanna play even harder for him.
You can see the impact he’s having on his players already, and the mutual respect that exists in this camp as they get ready for their season opener on Sunday September 8th at home against Miami. Above all other candidates that were desired, or interviewed, it seems the Browns’ brass got it right.
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