The San Francisco 49ers are turning over their coaching staff, and right now Marc Trestman and Rob Chudzinski are the two guys we have heard mentioned most frequently. I have heard more rumblings on Chudzinski at this point, although nothing is official. Other candidates will be mentioned until news breaks, but I'm of the belief that Chudzinski ends up getting the job.
Chudzinski is currently working for the Indianapolis Colts as special assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano. Prior to that, he was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2013, and offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers in 2011 and 2012. He worked with tight ends in San Diego from 2009 to 2010, and was the Browns offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. It's safe to say he has extensive experience on the offensive side of the ball. In fact, Mike Singletary interviewed him in 2009 for the offensive coordinator job, but Chud reportedly turned down the job.
With Chudzinski a very strong possibility for the OC role, I decided to chat with some of SB Nation's team bloggers to get their thoughts on him. I spoke with our Colts, Panthers, and Browns bloggers to see what he did with each team, and what they liked and did not like about him. I also spoke with Dan Kadar from Mocking the Draft, as he is a big Browns fan. We'll start with our Panthers blog because that is where he had his most extensive experience of his last three jobs. Thanks to James, Dan and the two Joshes.
Cat Scratch Reader, James Dator - Panthers OC
Rob Chudzinski is an offensive genius. I don't throw around that lightly. However, there were far too many times he fell in love with his scheme to the point he crossed into mad scientist territory. He became so enamored with Cam Newton's athleticism that the entire offense became about one player. Running backs weren't given the ball anymore, he didn't use Mike Tolbert well -- everything in the running back became about Cam. On the one hand it was nice to see his talents used, but there were far too many times on critical short downs that you wanted to strangle him for not simply running between the the tackles on 3rd and 1, instead of calling some elaborate read option play.
In year one it felt like he was creating the perfect system for Newton. By year two it seemed he cared more about showing an impressive portfolio of plays to gain a head coaching job than he did about trying to win games for the Panthers. That's where some hard feelings reside.
Chud's system handled Cam Newton perfectly. I'm not surprised the 49ers are looking at him, and for what it's worth I think he'd do very well with Colin Kaepernick. That said, he's a guy in need of an editor. A strong coach who can keep his scheme in check. Ron Rivera was too close to Chud from their time in San Diego and couldn't really do that.
In terms of what Chudzinski values: He's a huge proponent of the Air Coryell. It's a system that lives and dies by huge plays down field, with a big emphasis on a pass catching tight end. You wont see short sensible passing or between tackle running, he'll be looking for the knockout punch on every down. It's incredibly fun to watch, and Newton's rookie and sophomore statistics show that. However, I'm not sold that Chudzinski can win games regularly with it until he shows an ability to reconcile these plays with a sensible running game.
Dawgs by Nature, Josh Finney - Browns HC
Chud is something of an enigma to Cleveland fans. He had an absolutely fantastic season as the OC here in 2007, propelling the Browns from the dregs of the division to a 10-6 season with Derek Anderson(!!) at the helm. He is a tight end by background and emphasis that position, along with a strong background in a vertical passing game with deep routes that take some time to develop. I'd still consider him an innovator, as his time in Carolina with Cam Newton and the seamless integration of his read-option system suggests. (Remember, back then, few people were using the R/O).
His time as a HC was something of a disaster, but it's impossible to tell how much of those problems are driven by a lack of real leadership experience and how much from a fragmented and disjointed front office in Cleveland. I think it's likely a bit of both; Chud is likely more qualified to focus on the offense, and would probably have had a better shot to stick somewhere with an established front office.
For 49ers fans, it's critical that Tom find someone with an assertive, capable background managing everything from the offense on gameday; this type of senior, proven OC is hard to find, and Chud is likely a very good hire for that kind of a role. Plus, end of the day, he can probably offer advice on avoiding some of the pitfalls that led him astray.
Mocking the Draft, Dan Kadar (Browns fan)
Chudzinski got a raw deal in Cleveland. He was canned after one bad year, but it's not like he had a great roster to work with. His quarterback was Brandon Weeden, and since it's Cleveland they had three different starting quarterbacks this year. The Browns also had no running game to speak of and he got next to nothing out of the team's draft. Then when you add on that his first head coaching job came with the team he grew up loving, the expectations were probably too high.
Quite honestly, I don't think Cleveland ever got to really know what Chudzinski is capable of doing. We saw flashes of it, occasionally. He's not an incredibly daring play caller and he actually put his players in a position to be successful. That's no more evident than in tight end Jordan Cameron. He turned a project of a mid-round pick into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. If Cameron gets a big contract this offseason, he owes a portion of it to Chudzinski. The run game the Browns had that season was pretty vanilla. Just mostly power blocking and the running back finding a manufactured hole.
The players seemed to like him and were genuinely miffed when he was canned. Like, how can you turn a team around in a season? I don't know. This probably isn't very helpful to you, but it was hard to get a firm grasp on the guy because of the circumstances of his tenure. The team was just flat out bad while he was here and they never gave him a chance to implement something. At the least, I think if there's someone who can fix Vernon Davis, it's Chud.
Stampede Blue, Josh Wilson - Colts special assistant
His role has really been largely undefined this year. He's a special assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano, but that doesn't tell us a lot of what he's been doing. What I do know is that he has helped the Colts in a number of areas, whether it be in game planning, advice, or gameday help for Pagano, etc. He's largely a guy who does whatever the Colts need help with, but he has been more involved than I initially thought he would be, particularly on the offensive side of the football. He has very much been behind the scenes this year but has helped in a variety of roles.