CLEVELAND (AP) – Rob Chudzinski’s first head coaching job will be with the team he loved as a kid.
Chudzinski, who spent the past two seasons as Carolina’s offensive coordinator, has been hired by the Cleveland Browns as their sixth full-time coach since 1999.
The Browns are hoping the first-time head coach can end years of despair and constant losing and maybe resurrect a franchise that has made just one trip to the playoffs in the past 14 years.
A Browns spokesman confirmed Chudzinski’s hiring Thursday night and said he will be introduced at a news conference today.
Chudzinski will be the Browns’ 14th coach in team history. For the past two years, the 44-year-old has worked with talented Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Chudzinski has had two previous stints with the Browns as an assistant coach. He coached tight ends for Butch Davis in 2004, and then came back to the Browns in 2007 and was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator for two seasons under Romeo Crennel.
Chudzinski grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where he pulled for the Browns. Chudzinski interviewed with the team on Wednesday, and was viewed by many to be a longshot for the job.
However, he wowed owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner during his meeting and the team decided to give him the job after interviewing at least eight other candidates.
The Browns have been searching for a coach since firing Pat Shurmur on Dec. 31 following a 5-11 season.
Under Chudzinski, the Panthers finished fifth in total offense in 2011 and 12th last season.
Last year, Chudzinski interviewed for head coaching jobs with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay before returning to Carolina.
After his first stint on Cleveland’s staff, Chudzinski spent two seasons as San Diego’s tight ends coach, working with perennial Pro Bowl standout Antonio Gates.
Taking over the Browns offense in 2007, Chudzinski helped the Browns win 10 games – the most since their expansion rebirth in 1999 – and had four players make the Pro Bowl.
However, in 2008, the Browns struggled on offense and a six-game losing streak led to a 4-12 finish and Crennel’s firing.
Chudzinski went back to the Chargers for two more seasons before he was hired in Carolina.
Before they settled on Chudzinski, the Browns interviewed several college coaches and other NFL assistants.
On Thursday, former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt was brought to Cleveland for a second interview and appeared to be the frontrunner.
But in the end, the Browns decided to go with Chudzinski, who has no head coaching experience.
The hiring won’t cause Cleveland fans to dance in the streets, but it is in keeping with Banner’s past of hiring a coach without a meaty resume.
When he was in Philadelphia, Banner went outside the box and hired relatively unknown Andy Reid, who spent 14 seasons with the Eagles before he was fired after this season.