By Kyle Gans
Since the Cleveland Browns returned to the league, in 1999, they have had seven head coaches that have a combined record of 72-151. They have had one playoff appearance, which came back in 2002, under Butch Davis. To say the least, the Browns are used to finishing at the bottom of the AFC North.
Once again, the Cleveland Browns will have new men running the show. New owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner hired Rob Chudzinski as the Browns head coach and Michael Lombardi as the vice president of player personnel.
For the past two years, Chudzinski has served as the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator. Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator for the Browns from 2007-2008. In 2007 the Browns finished with a 10-6 record, their most wins since 1994. That year, the Browns ranked 8th overall in offense and sent four offensive players to the Pro Bowl.
Lombardi, has been out of the NFL since 2007. In 2008, he founded the website NationalFootballPost.com and has been working with NFL.com since 2010.
From 1987-1996, Lombardi worked in the Cleveland Browns front office. From 1992-1996 he served as the Browns director of player personnel under then head coach Bill Belichick. From 1998-2007 he was the director of player personnel for the Oakland Raiders, working closely with owner Al Davis.
Can these men do what so many other Browns coaches and player personnel officials have failed to do? Can Chudzinski and Lombardi bring the Browns back to the playoffs?
The short answer is, maybe. That’s not because of the hires of Chudzinski and Lombardi though. I think the two men who will have a bigger impact on the success of the Browns are their two new coordinators. The Browns have hired Norv Turner as their offensive coordinator and Ray Horton as their defensive coordinator.
Turner, has been way more successful as an offensive coordinator. Turner has spent time as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers. From 1991-1993, Turner led the high-powered Cowboys offense to two super bowl titles.
On five separate occasions, the lead running back in Turner’s offense was the regular season rushing champ. Emmitt Smith did it three times, Ladanian Tomlinson once and Frank Gore once.
This great news for Trent Richardson, as he tries to build on his productive rookie campaign. Stalwart offensive linemen Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and John Greco will only help Turner and Richardson improve the Browns running game, as well.
Turner has also showed his affection to throw the deep ball in his offensive play calling. With strong-armed quarterback Brandon Weeden and a wide receiver who has shown-off the ability to stretch defenses, in Josh Gordon, Turner will have the personnel to let it fly in Cleveland. Greg Little has also flashed the ability to stretch defenses but needs to be more sure-handed.
Turner has the offensive pedigree and talent on the roster, to turn the Browns offensive woes around.
A few weeks ago Horton was considered a head-coaching candidate, now he’s the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator.
Horton, has served as the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator over the past two seasons. The Cardinals had the 18th ranked defense in 2011 and improved to the 12th ranked defense in 2012.
While Arizona’s offense was abysmal, it was their defense that kept them competitive. Prior to serving as the Cardinals defensive coordinator, Horton was the Steelers secondary coach from 2004-10. Any coach who spends seven years working with Dick Lebeau, knows a thing or two about building a successful defense.
Horton ran a 3-4 defensive scheme with the Cardinals for the past two seasons and he coached that scheme as a member of the Steelers defensive staff; but Horton said he’s not “married” to the 3-4 scheme. The Browns ran a 4-3 defense last year.
Horton will bring an aggressive, blitzing scheme to a Browns defense that has some talented players. Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, D’Qwell Jackson, Jabaal Sheard, Joe Haden and TJ Ward gives Horton talent at every level on the defense to work with.
Under Horton’s tutelage, Daryl Washington bursed onto the scene as a three-down inside linebacker with the versatility to make plays all over the field. D’Qwell Jackson has a very similar skill set and should flourish in Horton’s system.
Last year, the weakness in Cleveland’s defense was their secondary, which ranked 25th against the pass. There’s good news though, that is Ray Horton’s specialty. Horton has helped Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson develop his coverage skills and has helped revive Kerry Rhodes’ career.
With Joe Haden at cornerback and TJ Ward at safety, Horton has two young, talented defensive backs he can mold in to perennial pro-bowlers.
Horton is a young, energetic coach whose stock is clearly on the rise. With the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it wouldn’t surprise me if Horton turned the Browns in to a top-10 defense.
Chudzinski should focus on his responsibilities as the team as a whole. Allowing Turner to call the offensive plays will help him do this. Lombardi needs to focus on adding depth to a roster that already has some talented pieces on both sides of the ball.
Adding Turner and Horton to this coaching staff gives the Browns one of the best coordinator tandems in the NFL. Now, Chudzinski and Lombardi just need to let them do what they do best, coordinate an offense and defense.