CLEVELAND – It is not too often that a rookie NFL head coach with a 4-5 record is mentioned as a possible Head Coach Of the Year candidate, then again, none of them has done what Rob Chudzinski has done in Cleveland.
Chudzinski, the Toledo-born, life-long fan of the Cleveland Browns, has managed to successfully overcome the trade of a first-round pick in Trent Richardson, a revolving door at quarterback in Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell, to lead the perpetually mediocre Browns to the edge of playoff contention.
While more high-profile coaches such as Andy Reid, Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, and Marvin Lewis may get more ink for coaching teams with more talent and bigger names, consider that Chudzinski inherited a team devoid of both an identity and an alarming lack of a franchise quarterback.
Many in Cleveland grudgingly pinned the Browns faint hopes of success on Weeden, taken 22nd out of Oklahoma State in 2012. While not taken by Chudzinksi, many—including this writer—felt that Weeden had a chance to break out and prove that he could have been “the guy” in Norv Turner’s vertical passing offense.
Alas, we all know how that proverbial pipe dream panned out.
After tossing two interceptions in a season-opening home loss, Weeden would miss three games due to a sprained thumb and Chudzinski would do the unthinkable in start a third-string quarterback in Hoyer—and bypass second stringer in Campbell—on the road in Minnesota, 48 hours after the trade of Richardson, and witness the local prep school standout spark Cleveland to three straight wins.
After seeing Hoyer suffer a season-ending ACL injury against Buffalo, Chudzinski gave Weeden a shot at redemption, which proved to be the biggest train wreck this side of the ObamaCare rollout in losses to Green Bay and Detroit, before turning to Campbell.
Campbell, a nine-year veteran, nearly engineered the biggest upset of the 2013-14 season at Arrowhead—thank you, Davone Bess—but looked fearless, confident and self-assured in the process, validating the coaching decision of Chudzinski to not be afraid to shake things up, when necessary.
In perhaps his biggest coaching win of his early nine-game coaching career, he went for it on fourth down, not once, but twice against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, something not seen in these parts in a head coach—the many that have come and gone—since, like ever.
Going for it on fourth down, not only won over the players, but also the fans and the Cleveland-area media, who have been begging and proverbially screaming for a head coach to have some guts and show some trust and confidence in his personnel, instead of settling for a field goal or punting, like so many Browns head coaches of the past have done far too often.
The job that Chudzinski has done in his rookie year in such a challenging and talent-deprived and dysfunctional organization such as Cleveland in instilling some much-needed aggressiveness, gives Chudzinski a valid platform of making his case.
With games against a flaky Bengals team after the bye, the inconsistent Jets, who have a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith, two games against the hapless Steelers, an average Bears team and a New England team with rookie receivers, Chudzinski’s Browns will have a chance to lead a real playoff push down the stretch.
Reid may be undefeated, Carroll, may have arguably the NFL’s best defense in Seattle, Belichick, a more mortal and human Brady, Payton reunited with Drew Brees and Lewis coaching the du jour Super Bowl pick downstate in the Queen City. What Chudzinski has done with three different quarterbacks in Weeden, Hoyer and now Campbell and to only be two games back in the NFL’s most rugged and physical division cannot be ignored, regardless of his team’s record.
Robert D. Cobb is the Founder/CEO/Senior Editor-In-Chief Of The Inscriber : Digital Magazine, for questions, comments and concerns email me at [email protected] follow me on Twitter @RC_TheInscriber and follow The Inscriber : Digital Magazine on Twitter at @TheInscriber