Passan: Heart Wins One for the Browns

Rich Passan takes a look at one of the Browns latest hires, and finds a reason for Browns fans to recapture some of their optimism as another off-season of change continues.

Sometimes, it's better to think with your head than with your heart. Keeps you out of a whole lot of trouble.

For Rob Chudzinski, however, the heart overruled the head and now, he's living out a dream as the new offensive coordinator for the Browns.

More power to him. He's going to need it.

Chudzinski, a lifelong Browns fan, must have a deep and abiding love affair with the team. How else can he explain eschewing the opportunity to interview for the luxury of coordinating arguably the most powerful offense in the National Football League?

Chudzinski, tight ends coach for San Diego the past two seasons after leaving the Browns following the 2004 season, was certain to be on the Chargers' short list of candidates to succeed Cam Cameron, who left for the top job in Miami.

He had the experience, having guided the high-powered offense at the University of Miami for three years under Larry Coker. And his two seasons with the Chargers enabled him to become familiar with the players and system.

He also helped develop Antonio Gates into the most feared and dominant tight end in the NFL.

Didn't guarantee him the job, but he certainly had a sizable foot in that door.

Until the Browns came along. Chudzinski had been on their radar for a while, but he was off limits because the Chargers were still in the NFL playoffs.

Perhaps an assist should be given to Bill Belichick, whose New England Patriots bounced the highly favored Chargers from further postseason participation, freeing up Chudzinski. Then the Browns pounced.

Little did they know they had Chudzinski at hello.

In an era where the interviewing process can sometimes take days and weeks, where second interviews are often required just to make certain the right decision is being made, this decision was arrived at after just one interview and in less than 24 hours.

The Chudzinski wow factor with Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage, most likely the latter since he's probably calling most of the coaching shots, must have jumped off the charts.

Apparently, Chudzinski didn't give the Chargers and their top-ranked offense a second thought. So long LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Gates and a terrific offensive line.

Hello Cleveland, where the running game is a myth, the offensive line is in shambles and the quarterback situation is as stable as the stock market. Not to mention a head coach on the slipperiest of slopes.

From the penthouse to the sub basement. From the Mercedes-Benz of offense to a used Chevy Aveo. From the best offense to one that is one rung from being the worst.

Made no difference. Cleveland was where Chudzinski wanted to be.

"This opportunity and a chance to come home and be a part of this organization was what brought me here," said the Toledo native, who ran the Browns' offense on an interim basis for the final five games in 2004 after Terry Robiskie moved up following the "resignation" of Butch Davis.

Why Cleveland over San Diego? "It goes back to my feelings for the Browns," he said. "It was a decision of the heart and head. . . . I like challenges. If you're a coach and you don't like challenges, then you shouldn't be coaching."

Well, Chudzinski came to the right place for challenges because this team will afford him more than his fair share. It is a team loaded with strong personalities, a.k.a. challenges.

"That kind of personality, that passion to win is what you want," said the new coordinator, who promised not to prejudge his new players. "I want all the guys to have a clean slate. That's fair to them. We'll build from there."

So what kind of a coordinator will he be? Hard to say. No track record to go on other than those five games back in 2004 when he essentially ran Robiskie's offense and the Browns scored just 51 points, including 22 in the final game.

Chudzinski labeled his offensive philosophy an "attack style built on the balance of the pass and run."

The attack part would be a pleasant change from the stolid, mind-numbingly dull style of Maurice Carthon, whose passive approach to offensive football set the Browns back several years.

What will be interesting to watch is how Chudzinski reconstructs this offense. Will he try to fit the players to his style and philosophy of how an offense should be run? Or will he build his offense around the particular talents of the players? And does he have the necessary pieces and parts to make it work?

Carthon never figured out it is always better to craft an offense to what the players do best. He rarely put his men in a position to succeed.

Chudzinski now has six months to figure out and solve the problems that have plagued the Cleveland offense the last two seasons. He needs some help, though, from Savage via free agency and the college draft.

If the general manager doesn't come through with a running back, a few quality offensive linemen and a veteran quarterback, Chudzinski might have to work with the same bullets Carthon and Jeff Davidson had in their guns last season.

There are those who will consider giving Chudzinski the keys to the offense a risk since he's so relatively inexperienced at running it on the pro level. But it's no riskier than the Pittsburgh Steelers hiring as their new head coach a man with only one season as a coordinator at any level.

Of course, it's a roll of the dice. But at this point – and with the Browns struggling mightily for any kind of an identity – what harm can it do? Can Chudzinski be any worse than Carthon and Davidson? Hard to imagine that will be the case.

So even though Chudzinski's heart definitely won this battle, it's his head that is being counted on to produce enough imaginative and innovative ideas to give Browns fans a reason to be optimistic in 2007.

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