By Jonathan Jones
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner had been on the road together for 10 days interviewing head coaching candidates before they sat down Thursday for dinner in Charlotte with Rob Chudzinski.
They had gotten to know each other’s body language pretty well, Haslam said, so an hour into their second interview with Chudzinski in two days, Haslam and Banner nodded at each other, then extended the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator his first NFL head coaching offer.
After contacting as many as 10 candidates – NFL head coaches, college coaches and pro coordinators – the Browns had selected Chudzinski as their seventh coach since 1999.
Chudzinski had already met with the duo for more than five hours at Haslam’s house Wednesday before Thursday’s trip to Charlotte.
“Everything from strength of personality to leadership to how he would go about putting his staff together to his assessment of our team to his offensive and defensive philosophies, it just confirmed it,” Haslam said. “We just thought it made sense to go back down and spend another two or three hours, and I’ll be honest, we went down there in mind that we’d bring Rob back as the coach.
“We just wanted to make sure he was the right guy.”
Chudzinski, who interviewed for three vacant head coaching positions a year ago, said he was more excited than stunned when he was offered the Browns job. A native of Ohio and former offensive coordinator for the Browns, Chudzinski has strong ties to the franchise.
“It is a dream come true, almost unbelievable in a lot of ways that this kid from Toledo, Ohio, growing up a Browns fan ...,” Chudzinski said at his introductory press conference. “I’ve been on Cloud Nine and I think I slept about an hour last night.”
Haslam called Chudzinski’s Ohio background nice, but not a must in the team’s decision. Chudzinski’s offensive numbers, recommendations from coaches around the league and his decisiveness in interviews were the biggest factors.
In two years as Carolina’s offensive coordinator, Chudzinski designed an offense around quarterback Cam Newton that finished seventh and 12th in the league in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Those seasons rank as the top two marks in total yards and first downs in franchise history.
He said Friday he will bring his vertical passing offense to the Browns, but declined to talk about potential assistant coaches and coordinators. Several reports have put former San Diego head coach Norv Turner in Cleveland as the offensive coordinator, and Chudzinski said his comfort level with who’s in that position will dictate how heavily he’s involved in the offensive play calling.
Haslam repeatedly said Chudzinski was decisive in interviews this week.
“These are hard projections,” Banner said. “What do you think the transition will be? What are the qualities you think are the differences in being a coordinator and head coach? Who have you seen be successful in making that transition?
“A lot of time we spent together was focused on those questions. You never know, but we think we identified the qualities we were looking for and are confident Rob has those.”
Banner, an executive with the Eagles since 1994 before joining the Browns in October, called around the league about Chudzinski’s credentials. Haslam said the feedback from offensive and defensive coaches was unanimously positive.
“Several of the coordinators said, ‘I hate to go against that guy,’” Haslam said.
“Hiring people, there’s an art and science. You have to rely on the facts and data, and the facts and data and references on Rob were outstanding. Then there’s the art and the gut feel. We felt very comfortable from the science part and the art part that this is the right guy for us.”