The Cleveland Browns announced on Thursday evening that Rob Chudzinski was the team's new head coach. With two years of experience as the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator, he comes with a keen offensive mind. However, the hire is not without certain pitfalls that the Browns should prepare themselves against.
After arriving in Carolina in 2011, Chudzinski was charged with quickly turning around an offense that was the worst unit in the NFL. The Panthers had some talent, but with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, they had no ability to move the ball down the field. Selecting Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, the organization charged Chudzinski with drawing up a game plan that could effectively use Newton's immense physical skills, while also being similar enough to the rookie's college offense that he could have first-year success.
Despite abandoning a traditional running game, Carolina's offense finished seventh in the NFL with one of the league's most efficient passing attacks. Newton became the team's primary running threat, and also the goal line back. In year one, this was acceptable, but the successes the Panthers had in their first season gave way to offensive hubris. Finishing 6-10, they were a team needing only minor improvements to take the next step -- but what happened was a repetition of history.
In 2007 as the Browns' offensive coordinator, Chudzinski gave his team a similar turnaround. Inheriting Derek Anderson and his quarterback, and a lack of talent at wide receiver -- he sent three players to the Pro Bowl, and wide receiver Braylon Edwards was named an All Pro; then it all fell apart. His second season saw all three players slump, and for no apparent reason. Chudzinski was out of work, and went to San Diego, where he would be Norv Turner's right-hand-man.
As the Carolina Panthers entered the 2012 season, hope was high, and like the Browns experienced in 2008 -- there was a similar slump from every player at skill positions. Nationally, the perception was that Newton was a one-year-wonder, and that a foolish organization overspent on running backs. Inside the Carolinas, however, the problem was clear -- it was Chud.
Like Frankenstein wiring his monster, so too Chudzinski continued to tinker with his offense. In the most classic case of "if it ain't broke" he moved the Panthers almost exclusively to a read-option offense, one that got general manager Marty Hurney fired after six weeks and almost cost head coach Ron Rivera his job. It wasn't until Week 10 that his scheme was reigned in, and every 2012 addition was scaled back -- predictably enough, the Panthers succeeded again. Newton thrived again, the running backs were made a larger part of the offense and it appeared Carolina was showing some of their preseason promise.
Herein lies the problem with Chudzinski as a coordinator. He lacks an innate inability to understand when something doesn't need to be changed, continuing to add more facets, and make an offense "cute," for lack of a better term. Offensive "wrinkles" became the Panthers' bread and butter. The scheme was quickly sniffed out by opposing defensive coordinators. If Rivera hadn't been fighting for his job and forced to assert his will on the offense, there's no telling how bad things could have been.
An offensive genius who crosses too often into mad scientist territory. That's the best way to describe Rob Chudzinski. If the Browns wanted an innovative offensive mind after missing out on Chip Kelly, they found one. However, if there isn't a sounding board who can keep him in check, and have him understand that less is more -- then not only will offensive players like Trent Richardson suffer, but the Browns could suffer the same fate again; flash-in-the-pan success followed by an inevitable slump.