Chudzinski’s deep Browns roots matter

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 12, 2013 – 12:15 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

When it came to hiring the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns, team owner Jimmy Haslam said Rob Chudzinski could have been from Plano, Texas, for all he cared.

Browns chief executive officer Joe Banner said he would have hired the “man in the moon,” if he possessed the necessary qualities for the job.

The point is Chudzinski’s background as someone who was born in Toledo, Ohio, and grew up loving the Browns had no bearing on Haslam and Banner deciding to make him the 14th full-time coach in franchise history.

That’s understandable.

The only question Haslam, who is from Tennessee, and Banner, who is from Massachusetts, needed answered when interviewing Chudzinski and other head-coaching candidates was: Does he have what it takes to make the Browns a winner?

Once they were satisfied he did and brought him aboard on Thursday night, they discovered there was a bonus in the fact that Chudzinski’s ties to the Browns go well beyond the fact he once was an assistant coach here.

They realized, as Chudzinski shared during his introductory news conference on Friday, this was someone who, at age five, was photographed wearing a Browns helmet and jersey and “really, really ugly 1970s pants” … someone who pretended to be one of his childhood heroes wearing brown and orange when he played football with his friends … someone who shared a bond of Browns loyalty with his entire family, including the cousin who bought a school bus a few years back and converted it into a “Browns Mobile” … someone who openly admits to having consumed a dog biscuit “or two” in his life.

As Haslam put it, “It’s a nice-to, not a have-to.”

But it is something that Chudzinski has and something that clearly matters to everyone with an emotional attachment to this team.

Ultimately, the No. 1 concern of Browns fans is that their head coach is successful, regardless of his birthplace or rooting interests from childhood. If he isn’t, none of the warm and fuzzy parts of his story will matter.

Yet, the fact Chudzinski views his opportunity as so much more than even reaching the very top of his profession provides a certain perspective that other such hires by the Browns or any other NFL team don’t have. It offers a feel similar to that of Bernie Kosar, from Youngstown, Ohio, getting the chance to play for his beloved Brownies when they made him a supplemental draft pick in 1985.

Does being from Ohio or loving the Browns have a tangible impact on how well someone coaches or plays for the team? Did it have anything to do with the Browns’ first head coach, Paul Brown, from Norwalk, Ohio, becoming one of the legends of the game? Did it have anything to do with Kosar becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks in franchise history?

Who knows?

But it certainly can’t hurt to have that depth of understanding of what the Browns mean to so many people. It certainly can’t hurt to be driven by not only the desire to survive in the incredibly insecure world of NFL coaching but to also have a major hand in the enormous task of turning the team around, once and for all.

It is so easy for a head coach to get so thoroughly consumed with the multitude of time-consuming aspects of the job that he pays little or no attention to how the team he is leading is seen from the outside.

That won’t ever happen to Chudzinski. He understands. He gets it.

And there could come a time, while studying videotape of the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens in the quiet of his office, that he just might find himself reaching for something other than peanuts or potato chips for a little late-night snack.

He just might go for another one of those dog biscuits … and be reminded of what serving as head coach of the Browns is truly all about.

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