Rob Chudzinski already has obvious bags under his eyes, just two days after the Indianapolis Colts associate head coach was told he would be taking over for fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
It’s a short week after the Colts (3-5) lost Monday night at Carolina and made the coaching change on Tuesday. And the unbeaten Denver Broncos (7-0) bring the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
“Chud” is understandably sleep deprived.
“Yeah, my wife mentioned to me that I got these rings under my eyes that are a little bit bigger than they used to be,” Chudzinski said with a laugh Thursday. “It’s been a lot of that and just getting caught up in the day-to-day things of getting practices setup, getting the game plan together and really going from having no idea that this was going to happen to being in that position. I love the challenge of it and looking forward to this weekend.”
Chudzinski, at least for now, will be all about simplicity and consistency. The playbook terminology can’t change much in just a few days — he’s been cramming to learn it all. But the problems couldn’t be more obvious.
Offensive struggles begin with slow starts. They’ve failed to score a touchdown in the first halves of four games and been shutout before intermission three times. They also have 19 turnovers, one shy of Detroit’s league-worst total, and quarterback Andrew Luck has been intercepted an NFL-high 12 times.
Only one week before a bye, with the Colts on a three-game losing streak, head coach Chuck Pagano decided enough was enough. His conversation was to the point with Chudzinski, who has been successful as an offensive coordinator in Carolina and Cleveland.
“Well, he told me he had made the decision and asked slash told me that I was going to be doing this,” Chudzinski said with another chuckle, “so there wasn’t a lot I could say to that.”
Pagano and “Chud” first worked together as assistants at the University of Miami from 1995 to 2000 and were on the same staff with the Cleveland Browns in 2004. Pagano wanted the man on his Colts staff after Chudzinski was fired as Browns head coach in 2013. He joined the Colts as a special assistant and then was promoted to associate head coach this season.
“Obviously, at the time, a lot of things ran through my mind,” Chudzinski said of meeting with Pagano. “Here’s the bottom line, it came down to how I feel for him, how I feel about the guys I’ve gotten to know in the short amount of time that I’ve been here in that locker room and the other coaches. If there’s anything I can do to help from my standpoint and from my part, I’m going to do all I can.
“You only get so many opportunities at these seasons. We’re in a position right now where we can achieve the goals that we want to achieve. I want to take advantage of that and whatever I can do in whatever role. That’s always how I’ve been here – whatever little things I can do, whatever big things I can do to make a difference.”
So his work week, just like that, became incredibly complicated. Last year, the Colts were the No. 1 passing offense and No. 3 in total yards. This season, they’re 14th in passing offense and 16th overall.
Chudzinski is in his 12th NFL season and has seen enough to know there aren’t any quick fixes.
“There’s usually a lot of reasons for that,” he said of the offensive issues. “If it was a simply solution, it would poof and we would have it fixed. There’s a lot of things I think that contribute to it. Bottom line is we need to work for consistency. Each one of those things we’ll chip away on and work at. Ultimately, hopefully I’ll be able to give those guys help in that manner.”
While much of the criticism is of Luck, who is having the worst season of his four-year career, Chudzinski reminded that’s the nature of the position. Everyone blames the quarterback because he’s the most obvious target. But the new play caller insists, just like Pagano said a day before, everyone is accountable to play better.
He said of the oft-criticized offensive line, which has allowed Luck to be sacked 14 times in six starts, “I think those guys have shown improvement. I know they’ve shown improvement. I challenge them to be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They need to feel that and believe that to achieve that. I’ve been just seeing how they’ve gelled and come together. The run game’s improved. The protections have improved as the season’s gone on. That’s something that we need to continue to get better. It’s not there, but we will.”
What he took away most from a one-on-one meeting with Luck is that the quarterback wants to win.
Tight end Coby Fleener’s take on Chudzinski is that offensive players are working extra so everyone is on the same page.
“There are guys studiously taking notes in the meetings,” Fleener said. “There are going to be some changes and I think everyone is kind of trying to make sure that they are on their A-game and making sure that they are prepared for this game.”
Fleener referred to Chudzinski’s influence the past two years as “outstanding,” and consulted with him as a secondary voice on how to run routes and other specifics.
Running back Frank Gore played for “Chud” in college with the Hurricanes.
“‘Chud’ is all about football,” Gore said, “a great football coach.”
And the Colts’ leading rusher repeated the plan to simplify what the Colts have been trying to accomplish.
“It’s football. Keep it simple. He’ll keep it simple,” Gore said. “He knows what type of talent we have on this team. Now we just got to as an offense, be one, don’t make mistakes, don’t hurt ourselves and have fun and we’ll be alright.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.