CLEVELAND (AP) — Rob Chudzinski's roots run 44 years deep with the Browns.
As a kid, he buckled on his orange helmet and ran around his backyard in Toledo, Ohio, pretending he was Ozzie Newsome. He sat outside in the snow and watched Cleveland games on TV through the window to make it feel like he was in the Dawg Pound.
He chomped on dog biscuits.
On Friday, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came true for Chudzinski, who was introduced as the Browns' sixth fulltime coach since 1999. Although he has never been a head coach, "Chud" was selected over candidates with more experience and stronger resumes.
Chudzinski, though, stood out. He wanted it more than anyone.
"It's a dream come true, almost unbelievable in a lot of ways," Chudzinski said.
There is a segment of Browns fans as stunned as Chudzinski, whose hiring seemed to come out of nowhere.
After interviewing several high-profile candidates, including Oregon coach Chip Kelly, former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt and other top coordinators, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner picked Chudzinski, who spent the past two years as Carolina's offensive coordinator.
Haslam said he spoke with "nine or 10 of the best coaches in the country" and insisted Chudzinski was on the team's list of candidates from the outset.
"Rob was always on our radar screen," Haslam said of his first coaching hire. "Rob has been identified as a top, bright, young guy for a long time. I feel very confident we've got the right guy."
This is Chudzinski's third stint with the Browns. He coached Cleveland's tight ends in 2004 and was the team's offensive coordinator in 2007-08. In his first season calling plays, the Browns went 10-6 and had four players make the Pro Bowl. It hasn't been nearly as good since he left
"Happy to see Chud coming back," Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said in an email to the AP. "We had a good year in 2007. Very smart offensive mind. When he left, I knew he'd be a great head coach someday!"
Chudzinski's first task is to assemble his staff. He'll speak with the assistants still under contract and is confident he'll be able to bring in quality coaches to build the Browns into a consistent winner. Chudzinski would not comment on any specific candidates. There are reports he'll hire former San Diego coach Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator.
Chudzinski was the Chargers tight ends coach under Turner.
Working on an hour's sleep after getting his dream job. Chudzinski would not comment on any players on Cleveland's current roster. He said his philosophy will be to "attack" on offense and defense and he feels the Browns have the versatility to run a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
The 44-year-old Chudzinski interviewed for head coaching jobs last year with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay before returning for his second season with Carolina, where he spent two years working with quarterback Cam Newton.
When he left the Browns for the second time in 2008, Chudzinski always thought he would return to Cleveland.
"I remember the last game walking out of the stadium and looking across the field, somehow knowing I'd be back somehow, someway," he said.
The Browns had a whirlwind courtship with Chudzinski. Haslam and Banner spent last week in Arizona, where they spoke to at least five known candidates. They got deep in talks with Kelly before backing away because of the offensive mastermind's indecision about jumping to the NFL.
The team rebooted its search and spoke with several other candidates including Whisenhunt, who was in Cleveland on Thursday for a second interview. Chudzinski met with the Browns on Wednesday at Haslam's estate on Lake Erie, where he laid out his coaching philosophies.
"Rob was very decisive," Haslam said. "'This is how I'm going to do things. I'm an offensive guy, but here's my role on defense. Here's my role on special teams. Here are the type of people I would bring in as coordinators, here are the type of coaches.' It was just very definitive."
Chudzinski received a phone call on Thursday that Haslam and Banner wanted to have dinner with him in Charlotte, N.C. They had been impressed with Chudzinski's thoroughness in the first interview, but wanted to spend more time with him.
"''We felt very positively that Rob was the man," Haslam said. "This organization has had a lot of change in terms of leadership, so it was exceptionally important that we get that right. An hour through dinner, we felt like that definitely this was the right guy."
Haslam said he wasn't aware of Chudzinski's Ohio background or his love for the Browns.
"It's a great story, but if Rob had been from Plano, Texas, we'd have hired him," Haslam said.
Banner has tracked Chudzinski's career for some time as he does with "the best young people in the league." It was Banner who had plucked Andy Reid, a then-unknown assistant from Green Bay, and hired him as Philadelphia's head coach in 1999. Reid spent 14 years with the Eagles before he was recently fired.
Now that they've hired a coach, Haslam and Banner will focus on finding a new general manager to help pick players for Chudzinski, who will be involved in finding the next GM.
Chudzinski has it better than any of his five predecessors in Cleveland. He inherits a young roster with more talent than the team has had in years, and it's his job to develop a team that has lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons.
Chudzinski understands Cleveland's passion for football — and its pain.
He knows the heartbreak felt by Browns fans, who are still waiting for their team to make the Super Bowl. He knows it because he's felt it, too.
The Browns have had other coaches, but never one so intensely attached to the team. Chudzinski could have stayed in Carolina and waited for another head coaching job to come along. But there's no other job that could match this one.
To Chudzinski, this was the only one.
"I wouldn't have missed this opportunity for anything in the world," he said. "To bring back the pride, the passion, the success this franchise has had in the past, I want to be part of that."
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