Steven King

Chudzinski Gets This Cleveland Browns Thing

Created on Sept. 01, 2013 6:00 AM EST

There are obviously a lot of people in Ohio rooting for the Cleveland Browns. It’s been that way since the team’s inception back in 1946.

Many of those same people are also rooting for Rob Chudzinski.

Chudzinski is the first-year head coach of the club, so they are going to pull for him in that respect. After all, if Chudzinski does a good job, then the team has a real chance to have a good season. But there’s more to it than that.

Chudzinski grew up in Toledo, Ohio – a little less than two hours west of Cleveland. As a big Browns fan, he and his family would turn the TV around inside the house so they could watch the games while playing football in the backyard pretending they were Brian Sipe, Greg Pruitt and Ozzie Newsome. His family members and friends remain huge followers of the club. One relative even has a big bus painted to look like the team’s plain orange helmet with the brown and white stripes down the middle. He loads it full of people and drives it to Cleveland on game days.

So not only does Chudzinski get to realize the dream of every football coach to get his shot at running a team in the NFL, but he also gets to enhance that dream by doing it with the team he followed as a kid. As such, this is more than just a job to Chudzinski. It is a responsibility – a challenge, a duty – to him to get this storied franchise back on track.

Without a doubt, it is personal – just as it was when he served as an offensive assistant in Cleveland in 2004 and again in 2007-08. Chudzinski is coaching not just for himself, but also for plenty of other people who are depending on him to get this thing right. He is driving himself and pulling out all the stops to make it happen. In fact, it is the first time since some guy named Paul Brown, who was born in Norwalk and grew up in Massillon, that the Browns have had a native son as head coach. And if he is successful, then it will be one of the best stories of the league.

Another great storyline of Chudzinski being in charge is that the man – offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Norv Turner – under  whom he used to work in San Diego during two different stints is now working for him. It was a real coup for Chudzinski to land Turner, one of the best offensive minds in the game as Chudzinski learned a lot of his football under him. They think a lot alike and believe in a lot of the same offensive principles. So Chudzinski knows the offense – which is in desperate need of being upgraded from what it was the previous five seasons – will be coached the way he wants it to be coached.

The situation Chudzinski is in – in his first head coaching job at any level and guiding the team he loves –
is not lost on Turner. He knows how important it is not just to Chudzinski’s career – but to him personally – to be successful. Turner doesn’t have anything left to prove as a proven and successful NFL coach, but he has taken it upon himself to step back into a support role, push up his sleeves, give something back and help his friend get to where he wants to go. And If Turner can do that, then it will be a notch pm his belt that right now does not exist. In addition, he will get great personal satisfaction out of it.

Turner will be a major help to Chudzinski in another way in that he will be able to offer advice on all of the situations that occur on a daily and game-to-game basis. Remember, Chudzinski has never been through that before as a first-time head coach on any level. Unlike all his other stops, Chudzinski won’t be doing nearly as much coaching as he will be managing people and putting out brush fires.

Another former NFL coach also figures into the Chudzinski coaching equation. Sam Rutigliano, who coached the “Kardiac Kids” teams from 1978-84 – the teams that Chudzinski rooted for while playing in the backyard – still lives in the Greater Cleveland area. In fact, Rutigliano resides in the same house in the eastern suburbs that he did when he was coaching here.

Rutigliano is hurt by the fact that, since the team came back in 1999, none of the team’s previous head coaches have bothered to establish a relationship with him. For that matter, he had never been upstairs in Browns Headquarters. He never had any intention of telling the coaches what to do, he just wanted to have a friendly conversation with them from the perspective of his having been in their very shoes – in this town coaching on the footprint of FirstEnergy Stadium – at one time.

Then, as training camp was set to begin this year, Rutigliano received a call from Chudzinski, who invited him upstairs to his office for a visit. The 82-year-old Rutigliano was so excited that he was like a little kid.

So how did it go?

“It was cool, really cool,” Rutigliano beamed.

And with that, Chudzinski gained another fan who is rooting not only for the Browns or for him as a head coach, but also for him personally.

Yeah, Chudzinski gets this Cleveland Browns thing.

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