Chudzinski’s steady hand key to early success

Posted Oct 7, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci says Rob Chudzinski’s even-keeled approach has gone a long way toward helping the team overcome so much adversity on the way to a three-game winning streak.

It's too soon to have this discussion, but it’s worth addressing to make a point.

Rob Chudzinski is doing the sort of work in his first five games as a head coach to at least merit consideration for NFL coach-of-the-year honors.

His name isn’t going to be brought up as often as that of Andy Reid, who has taken the 2-14 Chiefs of 2012 to a 5-0 start, or of Sean Payton, who has returned from “Bountygate” exile to lead the Saints to a 5-0 record, or of Chuck Pagano, who has returned from his battle with cancer to guide the Indianapolis Colts to 4-1. There are others, such as Seattle’s Pete Carroll and New England’s Bill Belichick, who probably will be mentioned before Chudzinski as well.

But Chudzinski definitely deserves a mention for his role in helping the Browns to negotiate the extremely rocky path they’ve traveled to get to 3-2.

In a relatively short time, the Browns have already overcome as much adversity as any team in the league – if not more – to find themselves with a piece of first place in the AFC North, a space this club hasn’t occupied this late in the season since 1995. And Chudzinski, through his remarkably even-keeled approach, has had a major hand in helping them to do so.

When the team lost its first two games, looking particularly bad in the home-opener against Miami, Chudzinski didn’t give even the slightest hint of unraveling. When it lost starting quarterback Brandon Weeden to a thumb injury in the second game and sent shockwaves through the NFL by turning to former third-stringer Brian Hoyer (before anyone knew he would perform as well as would in the next two games), Chudzinski maintained a business-as-usual demeanor. When it sent even larger tremors through the league by trading starting running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis only hours after Hoyer was officially announced as the new No. 1 quarterback, Chudzinski, once again, never flinched.

And when Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury two series into last Thursday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills, Chudzinski calmly sent Weeden onto the field – even while knowing his only other quarterbacking option was tight end MarQueis Gray, a former college quarterback – and watched him overcome a poor start (and the losses of running back Chris Ogbonnaya to a concussion, and of dominant defensive lineman Desmond Bryant to shortness of breath, further weakening an already injury depleted defensive front) to help the Browns win their third game in a row, 37-24.

If you’re looking for a word that best captures the identity of the Browns, you don’t have to search very hard. Resiliency pretty well covers it.

If you’re looking for how the Browns have developed that crucial trait, you only need to talk with the head coach who has done a superb job of tapping into it.

“It’s consistency in approach in what we need to do to win,” Chudzinski said. “The focus is on doing the things and doing whatever it takes to get ready and put ourselves in position to win, and, ultimately, making the plays. And it doesn’t matter who it is at quarterback. It doesn’t matter who it is at different positions.

“Teams are always going to go through adversity. You almost prepare and plan for it. You know it’s coming.”

Did Chudzinski anticipate that there would be this much this soon?

Probably not.

But adversity doesn’t follow a calendar or a clock and it doesn’t give many, if any, warning signs. That, by its very nature, is what adversity is all about.

And the smart coaches, such as Chudzinski, start the process of getting their players ready for the bad times long before they hit. And the smart player-personnel evaluators – such as chief executive officer Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi and assistant GM Ray Farmer – select talent with an eye toward the necessary mental toughness to overcome all that can go wrong during a season … or a little more than a month.

“I think all the things that you go through during the course of your career and the experiences you have, build you towards the understanding of that,” Chudzinski said. “But it’s not me, certainly, alone. We have a great staff. We have a lot of guys that have a lot of experience. They’re outstanding teachers. And I think the message has been consistent throughout. I just give them a lot of credit.

“And I give the guys in the locker room, our leaders in our locker room, a lot of credit. They’re the ones that are going and doing it. I think it’s very much the way the guys are -- their personalities, what makes them tick, and what makes them come hungry every day. I expect, fully, that that’ll continue, that these guys will continue that approach.”

But you can be certain that Chudzinski isn’t leaving any of that to chance.

For Chudzinski and the rest of the coaching staff, there was nothing “free” about the so-called free weekend the Browns had because they played last Thursday night. The coaches were at the team’s facility on Sunday. Rest assured, Chudzinski wasn’t kicking back in front of his television set watching other NFL coaches at work.

“Really, the focus this weekend was on us getting better,” he said. “We’re only five games into the season, so there’s a lot of football to be played. And we have a lot of improvements to make and a lot of things we need to get better at and continue to get better at to be the kind of team that we ultimately want to be.”

How much better the Browns get will have everything to do with determining the level of Chudzinski’s coach-of-the-year candidacy.

And his complete and utter disinterest in that honor right now is part of the reason he should legitimately be in the running for it.

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