Will Chud Be A Stud?

The Browns have hired a new head coach.  His name is Rob Chudzinski, he’s 44 years old, and he’s been an assistant coach in the NFL for years, including two prior stints with the Browns.

Will Chud be a stud?  Who knows?  Most recently, he’s been the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.  They didn’t make the playoffs this year, but their offense was better than the Browns.  Chudzinski’s supposed to be great at developing young quarterbacks — but then, so was Pat Shurmur, and we all saw how that Browns hire turned out.  So, we’ve got a young guy who’s never been a head coach in the NFL before, trying to turn around a franchise that has given its fans awful teams over the past few years.  It will be a big challenge for him, just as it was a big challenge for Shurmur, whose resume was just like Chudzinski’s.  I hope the Browns hired Chudzinski because they thought he would be a good head coach, and not for other reasons, like his being willing to agree to restrictions on his authority that other coaches wouldn’t accept.

Lots of people are ripping the Browns about the choice.  They may be right, or they may not.  Since their return to the league, the Browns have hired hot NFL assistants, hot college coaches, and former NFL head coaches.  They’ve all stunk up the joint.  I’m not sure there is anything magical, or predictable, about who will be successful as an NFL head coach.  It’s a weird job that requires a unique combination of football savvy, talent spotting and development ability, management skill, inspirational leadership, PR awareness, and a number of other characteristics.  I don’t think you know whether a candidate will succeed until you make them a head coach and see how they perform.  Chudzinski could bomb, or he could do well.  We won’t know for a while.

In the meantime, I’ll just content myself that the name “Chudzinski” fits well with an ethnic, blue-collar town like Cleveland.  And “Chud” allows for lots of good rhymes and puns, whether the team’s performance blows (dud, crud, mud, thud) or is unexpectedly good (stud, bud) or just funny (spud, tastebud, cud).  That will have to do for now.


A Brown New Year

Last year was an even year, so it was inevitable that the “new” Browns would fire their head coach.  After all, it happened in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2010.  And, sure enough, yesterday the Browns gave the boot to Perplexed Pat Shurmur as well as General Manager Tom Heckert.

I’m not defending Shurmur.  His record stank — 9-23 is putrid even by the awful standards the Browns have achieved since they returned to the league in 1999 — and I thought he was overmatched by head coaching duties.  Shurmur’s bad game management decisions, weird use of personnel, and other failings showed he just does not have the unique skill set that successful NFL head coaches possess.  This season’s end-of-the-year collapse sealed his fate.

I’m sorry to see Heckert go, however.  He seemed to have a good eye for spotting NFL-grade talent — and, as the Browns’ laughable draft performance since 1999 shows, that’s not a capability to be sniffed at.  Thanks to Heckert, the Browns are stocked with a number of young players who look like they have real potential.  The Browns obviously are missing a few pieces, but progress on the personnel front definitely was made.  I don’t think Heckert will be easy to replace.

Mostly, though, I greeted the story about the Browns’ housecleaning with a shrug.  It’s hard to care passionately about the Browns, with their consistently bad performance, perennial late-season stumbles, and constant coaching changes.  The Browns organization demands a lot from the team’s loyal fan base and never delivers any reward.  It’s exhausting and deeply frustrating to be a Browns Backer, and it’s hard to maintain the necessary level of commitment.

Every few years the Browns franchise brings in a new regime, promises dramatic improvement, and then repeats its past failures.  The Browns’ new owner, Jimmy Haslam, promises a careful search for a new coach and GM who will establish stability and bring long-term success.  I’m not going to get too excited about it.  I’m tired of new hires that are oversold as saviors; I just want some competent hard-working people who will stop my team from being viewed as the punch line to a league-wide joke.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Under what circumstances — if any — should Pat Shurmur return to coach the Browns in 2013?

This question was not being asked three weeks ago.  In fact, if you had posed that question three weeks ago in a Cleveland-area bar, you would have been laughed out of the joint and perhaps punched in the face, too, on general principles.  Browns fans, myself included, were ready to see Perplexed Pat hit the road and have the team start over  with a new regime picked by the new owner.

But the last three weeks have produced three wins, including last weekend’s trouncing of the hapless Chiefs.  Now the Browns stand at 5-8, and actually have a very, very small chance of making the playoffs.  Of course, the Browns would have to win out against three good teams, and a lot of dominoes would need to fall their way — but still!  A chance to make the playoffs!  It’s almost like there’s a professional football team on the shores of Lake Erie.

I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid.  The Browns have beaten three pretty crummy teams in their winning streak, and their offense sputters something awful.  And yet . . . the young players (of whom there are many) look like they could actually be legitimate players in the NFL.  The defense plays a rugged game and doesn’t seem to get down when they give up a big play.  The offense has some reasonably good playmakers, all of whom (with the exception of thirty-something rookie QB Brandon Weedon) just started shaving last week.  It’s hard not to think that this team will only get better with age, experience, and a few wins under their collective belts.

I’m not convinced Shurmur has what it takes to be a successful NFL coach . . . but I also think NFL owners should think long and hard before they dump the old regime and bring in a new playbook, new approaches, and the disruption that is the inevitable result of such a change.  I want to see how the Browns look against the Redskins, who are battling for a playoff spot.  I want to see whether these young players maintain their focus and whether they come out and play hard now that their games are starting to mean something.  I want to see if Shurmur continues the interesting playcalling we saw in the Chiefs game.

There’s still plenty of time before this decision needs to be made.  Watching the Browns has suddenly become interesting again.