Even though I was a bit surprised by the hiring of Rob Chudzinski as the Browns head coach, I completely understand it. He brings an offensive expertise to the Browns and has delivered two proven coordinators in Norv Turner and Ray Horton.
At the age of 44, ‘Chud' could finally bring the stability the franchise has needed.
I was really not as concerned about the hiring of the head coach as I was about who is evaluating and bringing in the talent. When Joe Banner hired Andy Reid in Philadelphia, he eventually became the guy who had final say when it came to draft choices and in personnel matters.
Hopefully, Chudzinski is adept already or will quickly become good in personnel matters and have the same type of control with the Browns when he has earned it, if that is what Banner truly believes.
I will admit, like many Browns fans, I was not a big fan of the Mike Lombardi hire. I know Jimmy Haslam said he was told by NFL executives to jump at the chance to hire him if you can. My immediate thought is why hasn't anyone else hired him in the five years he's been out of an NFL organization?
But first and foremost, I am a Browns fan and to hope that Banner and Lombardi fail will be like the old saying, ‘to cut off your nose to spite your face'.
I was covering the Browns with Browns News/Illustrated during the Bill Belichick years and the pervasive feeling was the Lombardi was not a great personnel evaluator. It's hard to pin any particular draftee on him, but as Belichick always said "I can only go by what I see". In the 40 draft picks while Lombardi was involved in personnel, only Eric Turner made it to the Pro Bowl and he was the second player drafted that year. There were many more Patrick Rowe's, Craig Powell's, Tommy Vardell's and Dan Footman's than there wereTurner's.
Even at his last stop in the NFL with the Raiders, Robert Gallery and JeMarcus Russell come to mind—albeit Al Davis would get the credit (or blame) for those picks.
I was unhappy to see Tom Heckert replaced because I felt he was finally making strides in the upgrading of the talent on the roster. Sure, there were misses, but there were more hits than misses and Lombardi was critical of the 2012 draft and I feel that was his best. He said Josh Gordno was a ‘wasted pick' at the time the Browns used a second-round pick in the NFL Supplemental Draft on him.
However, if Lombardi is stronger than Heckert was then that will be a strong coup for the Browns. However, if he is not, the Browns are destined for mediocrity, at best. Chudzinski could be a great coach but if great players aren't brought in the Browns are not going anywhere.
One of the things that concerned me about the hiring was why all the secrecy? This was obviously a clandestine set up with the hiring of Lombardi.
From before word came public that Randy Lerner was going to sell the team, Banner stepped down from his role with the Eagles and was rumored to be heading for Cleveland. Once news broke that Haslam was going to buy the Browns from Lerner, Banner's name was linked immediately to the Browns. Recently hired president, Alec Scheiner said he and Banner had talked about putting together a team back in the early summer.
Soon thereafter, Lombardi was the name that immediately surfaced as Banner's GM in the move. After silence for months, when the sale was official, Banner was named CEO. After talking about waiting until the end of the season to make any evaluations, Heckert and Pat Shurmur were immediately fired the day after the season ended. Lombardi has been on local radio doing a weekly spot all season. Was that just a coincidence or was it to grease the skids for his arrival?
At the press conference to introduce Chudzinski, Banner was asked during the side bar interviews about Lombardi and he downplayed his role.
After the past couple of weeks of saying they were interviewing GM candidates, Lombardi was hired. The only verified interview was to Ray Farmer, who satisfied the Rooney Rule. If Haslam and Banner were sold on Lombardi from the beginning, why not just admit it instead of acting like they weren't going there when all along they were.
Lombardi asked media members for a fresh start and that is fair.
"If I was the same guy that was here 20 years ago, I would say that Jimmy and Joe shouldn't have hired me, but you have to change and you have to grow intellectually, personally," Lombardi said at his introductory press conference. "I think it's important. It's in that change that you separate yourself and keep yourself with pace. I think it's really important. I view change as good."
We all hope that we've learned from our past mistakes, but for the Browns to break out of the rut of losing year in and year out, they truly are going to need to be right on this hire.