Rob Chudzinski walked the long hallway in the bowels below Cleveland Browns Stadium while going from the San Diego team bus to the visiting locker room several hours before the Chargers' Dec. 6 game against the Browns here.
Chudzinski, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio as a huge Browns fan and played at St. John High School there, was giddy when he returned in 2007 for his second stint with the Browns, this time as offensive coordinator. Football is a great life, and it's even better when you get to do it with your boyhood team.
A reporter spotted Chudzinski, who got the job as Chargers offensive coordinator when he was fired along with almost all of Romeo Crennel's coaching staff following last season, and congratulated him on now being with the hottest team in the NFL, one that has a real chance to get to the Super Bowl.
"Yeah, it's been fun," he said sheepishly.
The longer the conversation went on, the more sheepish Chudzinski became.
He finally admitted with a smile, "I almost walked into the home locker room."
He probably had to talk himself out of that.
The unspoken truth: Chudzinski never wanted to leave Cleveland and the Browns and would love to come back.
If new Browns president Mike Holmgren comes in and blows up the team and starts anew, don't be at all surprised if Chudzinski shows an interest in being part of the coaching staff, even if it's through a third party so as to not cause a stir with the Chargers, for whom he's done a wonderful job this year. Chudzinski feels that strongly about being with the Browns and in Cleveland.
We say all this because the other the local guy/former coordinator off that Browns team last year will be in town Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars come to Cleveland Browns Stadium for the regular-season finale.
That's Mel Tucker, the first-year defensive coordinator of the Jaguars.
Tucker spent the previous four seasons as an assistant with the Browns, spending 2008 as defensive coordinator and then from 2005-07 as defensive backs coach. He got fired, too, along with Chudzinski, when Crennel's staff was let go.
Tucker grew up in the local area and starred at Cleveland Heights High School before going on to play at Wisconsin. He later coached one season at Miami of Ohio and for three seasons, 2001-04, as defensive backs coach and then co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State on Jim Tressel's staff before coming to the Browns.
Tucker, who will turn 38 on Monday, told the story one day last season of the first Browns game he saw in person, being so small that his father hoisted him onto his own shoulders so he could see over the crowd at Cleveland Stadium. Though he was a little quieter than Chudzinski in public – and Chudzinski wasn't really that much of a talker, either – Tucker made it clear he loved coaching for his hometown team in his hometown. It didn't get much better than that. His wife, Jo-Ellyn, is an attorney who had a practice here while Tucker was with the Browns.
Like Chudzinski and the Chargers, Tucker and his team could go to the playoffs as well, but the 7-8 Jaguars, who have ruined what was shaping up as a pretty good season by losing their last three and four of five, are going to need a lot of help from other teams to do so. They are hanging by a thread in the postseason race, and that thread is getting more frayed by the minute.
Accompanying Tucker to Cleveland with the Jaguars will be two other former Browns assistants in defensive assistant Cory Undlin, who worked the last four years in Cleveland, partly as Tucker's assistant, and running backs coach Kennedy Pola, who was one of the best teaching assistants the new Browns have had when he served as running backs coach on Butch Davis' last staff in 2004.
On the flip side, Carl Smith, in his second stint as quarterbacks coach with the Browns, spent 2005 and '06 as offensive coordinator of the Jaguars; strength and conditioning coach Tom Myslinski played for Jacksonville back in its expansion season of 2005; safety/special teamer Nick Sorensen was a Jaguar from 2003-06; and tight end Greg Estandia split time on Jacksonville's active roster, Injured Reserve List and practice squad from 2006-09.
But of all these men, the key one is Tucker. It will be interesting to see on Sunday morning if he has the same reaction to returning to Cleveland Browns Stadium as Chudzinski, his friend, did a month ago.
And like Chudzinski, Tucker's future seems bright.
"I got to know Mel a little bit prior to him leaving," Browns head coach Eric Mangini said Friday. "He's a really bight guy. I think he's a good coordinator.
"I think he's going to be a head coach at some point. He has that type of personality. Just in talking to him, you just sense that this isn't his last stop. He'll continue to move up."
Maybe back to Cleveland at some point. You never know.