October 26, 2014

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Oregon’s Chip Kelly on top of Browns’ short list

Safety T.J. Ward is the Chip Kelly expert inside Browns headquarters.

That could change in the next several days.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly is reportedly high on the Browns’ wish list. (AP PHOTO)

Ward was with Kelly for three years at the University of Oregon, the final one with him as head coach. Ward watched the quick-strike, fast-paced, pedal-to-the-metal offense grow into a national phenomenon.

“He’s a great motivator,” Ward said Monday of Kelly after Pat Shurmur was fired as Browns coach. “He comes in and he knows what he wants to do and he gets his players to play for him and play hard.

“He has a great scheme, great system. He’s a high-energy coach.”

Kelly is preparing the Ducks to face Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday in Arizona, but the Browns are poised to make a run at him.

Adam Caplan of SiriusXM Radio reported Monday night that Kelly is the team’s clear first choice, citing two high-ranking NFL personnel executives. Caplan noted Kelly’s agent, David Dunn, has a strong working relationship with Cleveland CEO Joe Banner.

The Eagles are also reportedly high on Kelly, which would set up an interesting battle for the 49-year-old without any NFL experience. Banner worked for years in Philadelphia for owner Jeffrey Lurie and they’re childhood friends.

Kelly spent 14 years at New Hampshire, his alma mater, before joining Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator. He became head coach in 2009 and is 46-7.

The Ducks are in their fourth straight BCS bowl game, including the national championship following the 2010 season, which they lost 22-19 to Auburn. The offense has been the engine, as they’ve ranked no worse than sixth in the country in rushing yards since 2007 and have been in the top 10 in scoring and total offense in all but one year.

After the Ducks averaged 43.1 points and 489.4 yards of total offense in Kelly’s first three seasons, they took it up a notch in 2012. They are 12-1, averaging 50.8 points and 550.1 yards.

“He’s a great coach,” Ward said. “You can see what he’s doing at Oregon. I think he has what it takes to be successful in this league. Whoever they pick, Chip is a great option.”

The concern with any college coach is if he can make the transition to the NFL. The talent level is deeper, recruiting is far less important, the systems are more complex and the learning curve can be steep.

But Kelly’s up-tempo offense could be the next big thing in the NFL. New England’s Bill Belichick has picked his brain and is using some of the principles.
“It’s a hard transition,” Ward said. “Some guys are successful and some guys aren’t. There is no pattern to guys being successful. You have to wait and see if it happens.”

Kelly uses the option some and quarterback Marcus Mariota has rushed 98 times for 827 yards. Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden relies on his arm, not his legs, and doesn’t think he’d fit in Kelly’s offense.

“I don’t think I can run the zone read,” he said.

Kelly might adapt to Weeden, who excelled in the spread at Oklahoma State, or the Browns could go after Philadelphia’s Michael Vick or try to draft West Virginia’s Geno Smith.

Kelly reportedly came close to leaving Oregon for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after last season. He might not be able to resist two years in a row, especially with Oregon facing an NCAA investigation.

“I’ve got a game to play,” Kelly said Monday when asked about the NFL. “We’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl. That’s the biggest thing in my life.

“If I allowed other things to get into my life, then they would be distractions, but there aren’t. Our focus 100 percent is on the Fiesta Bowl.”

Ward didn’t make a pitch for owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner to hire Kelly. But he gave a complimentary scouting report.

“He’s in your face and he wants to get the best out of you and you know that and he comes from that angle,” Ward said. “He’s not a guy who screams for no reason.

“I think the players in the NFL would respect him and they will respect how he approaches you. He lets you do your job. In college he treated us like pros. I think that’s what players respect and appreciate about him.”

Interviews for Marrone, Horton

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Browns will interview Syracuse coach Doug Marrone this week. Buffalo will also meet with him.

Marrone was offensive coordinator for the Saints for three years before returning to his struggling alma mater. Syracuse went 8-5 this year with a 38-14 win in the Pinstripe Bowl over West Virginia.

• The Browns will also reportedly interview Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Caplan reported Banner was in Arizona, where he could also try to meet with Kelly.

Horton interviewed with the Cardinals on Tuesday after they fired Ken Whisenhunt on Monday. Horton was Arizona’s coordinator for the last two seasons after 17 years as a position coach across the NFL. He played defensive back for 10 years with the Bengals and Cowboys.

Extra points

Former Browns president Mike Holmgren, who left after Banner was hired, reiterated to ESPN’s Ed Werder he would consider a return to coaching.

“If anyone is interested, I’ll listen,” Holmgren said.

• CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported Tom Heckert will be considered for the opening as Jets general manager. Heckert was fired Monday by the Browns.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.