Rob Chudzinski’s new gig isn’t like normal jobs.
He didn’t have to give two weeks notice to the Carolina Panthers. He doesn’t get a week off to clear his mind, buy a new wardrobe or take a vacation.
Within hours of being named the 14th full-time coach in Browns history Thursday night, Chudzinski was on the phone trying to assemble his staff. He slept for only an hour because he was making a mental to-do list for Friday and beyond.
Let me help Chudzinski with a few suggestions of how to prioritize the next week.
Stuff the staff
Chudzinski sold owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner during the interview process on his ability to lure a good staff of assistant coaches. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be the centerpiece.
Turner has agreed to take the job after he returns from vacation in Hawaii, according to multiple reports. Turner received much ridicule in three tries and 15 years as a head coach, but his chops as a coordinator and play caller have gotten rave reviews since his days in Dallas with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin in the early 1990s.
Turner should call the plays, which would lighten the load on Chudzinski in his first year. New head coaches learn quickly that the game moves more quickly when you’re responsible for calling timeouts, throwing the challenge flag and deciding when to go for it on fourth down. There’s no need to try to squeeze in calling plays.
The combination of two “innovative” offensive minds should lead to a potent attack, which would be a welcome sight to frustrated fans who are in awe of the points put up across the rest of the league.
But the other side of the ball can’t be ignored. Especially because it isn’t Chudzinski’s area of expertise.
He is trying to land John Pagano as defensive coordinator, according to reports. He is the younger brother of Colts coach Chuck.
John Pagano has been a Chargers assistant for 11 years, and 2012 was his first as coordinator. The Chargers, who went 7-9 with Turner as coach, ranked ninth in yards allowed and 16th in points allowed. The Chiefs wanted Pagano, but the Chargers denied permission as they wait to hire a head coach.
Pagano doesn’t have the resume of Turner, but he would be a comfortable fit for Chudzinski. Familiar faces are welcome in a new job.
That doesn’t mean keeping the best from coach Pat Shurmur’s staff is a bad idea. And Chudzinski understands that.
The Browns haven’t confirmed any staff hirings, but ESPN reported offensive line coach George Warhop chose to stay rather than join Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Browns also denied six teams permission to interview special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, according to ESPN. That should mean Chudzinski plans to keep the up-and-comer.
Tabor struggled in his first season in the role in 2011, but bounced back with a great 2012 as the Browns finished in the top five in the overall special teams rankings.
Chudzinski would be wise to consider also keeping linebackers coach Bill Davis, running backs coach Gary Brown, tight ends coach Steve Hagen and offensive assistant Nolan Cromwell.
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron made quite an impression in his two years under Shurmur. He was beloved throughout the building, respected by the players and helped a young squad improve.
But he wasn’t aggressive enough for Chudzinski, who was quick to label his style as “attacking” during his introductory news conference. The Browns had 32 and 38 sacks the last two years, and Chudzinski expects even more.
“We’re going to create turnovers. We want to get after the quarterback and affect the quarterback’s play,” Chudzinski said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that you want to do as a defense.”
Chudzinski said he’ll leave it up to his coordinator to determine whether the base defense is a 4-3 or 3-4, but he will demand flexibility. As a former coordinator, he knows play calling gets much more difficult if you don’t know which scheme to expect on a given snap. That means a hybrid of the 4-3 and 3-4, capitalizing on your personnel’s strengths while attacking the opponent’s weaknesses.
Pagano believes in the hybrid, though his base will likely be the 3-4 he used in San Diego. He will quickly realize the Browns’ strength is the linemen and will try to get four on the field as often as possible.
He must also find a way to maximize the talents of end Jabaal Sheard, tackle Phil Taylor and middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who excelled the last two years in the 4-3 and might have difficulty adjusting to a standard 3-4.
I believe Chudzinski can have success with quarterback Brandon Weeden. He coaxed Derek Anderson’s best year out of him in 2007 and was quick to say he will bring a vertical passing attack. That would suit Weeden, who has more than enough arm and more touch than Anderson.
Weeden still needs work on reading the field, but he had no problem getting the ball out of his hand in a hurry when the play called for it. Chudzinski liked that about Anderson — he made a decision and went with it.
But Weeden sticking around as the starter for his second season isn’t a given.
Banner reportedly isn’t sold on the 29-year-old, and Chudzinski spent the last two years with Cam Newton. Once you’ve coached a quarterback who can throw and run with the best in the league, it’s tough to go back to a one-dimensional player like Weeden.
The Browns don’t have a Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson on the roster, but Chudzinski might be looking for one. He prides himself on being innovative, and certainly realizes the game is moving toward the pass-run threat at quarterback.
Plays must be made from the pocket — and a guy like Tom Brady will never go out of style — but a quarterback who can escape trouble and stress a defense with his athleticism turns poor plays into good ones, and good ones into great ones. Seattle doesn’t nearly beat Atlanta on Sunday if Wilson doesn’t scramble for multiple first downs, including avoiding a sure sack that might’ve ended the game.
I believe Weeden can be a winner in this league, and have no doubt he’ll be much improved if given a second year as the starter. But Chudzinski’s success will be tied to his quarterback, and he must feel comfortable with whoever he picks to fill that role in his first season.
So the first chance he gets, Chudzinski should watch every snap Weeden played in 2012. I think he’ll like what he sees, but he needs to decide for himself.