Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner laid their cards on the table and pushed their money into the middle.
They went all in for University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
They were left waiting to find out if they’ll be awarded the grand prize.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported at 11 p.m. Friday the Browns met with Kelly for seven hours and they parted without a deal. Kelly then began an interview with the Bills and is scheduled to meet with the Eagles today. Mortensen said the Browns remain the favorite to land him.
The Twitter world and Browns Town were abuzz earlier in the evening when NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported the Browns and Kelly, 49, were close to a deal. The Associated Press later reported the sides were nearing a deal.
The Browns refused comment all night, because their policy is to not confirm or discuss interviews.
Haslam and Banner had targeted Kelly long before they fired coach Pat Shurmur on Monday. Banner has a good relationship with Kelly’s agent, David Dunn, and they had discussions while Kelly was preparing to coach Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night.
“I think any responsible person does succession planning and, candidly, we’ve been doing succession planning for the last two or three months,” Haslam said Monday.
Adam Caplan of XM Sirius Radio reported a high-ranking NFL source called the Browns’ interest in Kelly “more than an infatuation” and their interested hasn’t waned one bit.
The Ducks beat Kansas State 35-17 on Thursday, then Kelly turned his attention to the NFL. The hiring of Kelly would be a significant moment in Haslam’s new ownership.
“We think the person that can come in here and make the Cleveland Browns a winner will be recognized as one of the great coaches of all time, will be beloved in this area,” Haslam said Monday. “We’re not going to worry about who else is out there looking for a coach. We have our people in mind and we’re going to work hard to bring the right person here to Cleveland.”
Haslam chose Banner as his CEO and empowered him to conduct the search. Banner kept his options open by interviewing four others this week, but focused on Kelly. He liked the way he built and ran the Oregon program in his four seasons and the innovation he showed on offense.
The Ducks are 46-7 under Kelly. Since he was hired as offensive coordinator in 2007 after 14 years at the University of New Hampshire, his alma mater, Oregon ranked no worse than sixth in the country in rushing yards and was in the top 10 in scoring and total offense in all but one year.
The Ducks went 12-1 this season, averaging 49.6 points and 537.4 yards per game. For comparison sake, the Browns went 5-11 and averaged 18.9 and 314.2.
Haslam and Banner aren’t scared away by Kelly’s lack of NFL experience. He has never played or coached at the professional level and follows Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino — flops in the NFL after successful college careers.
But Kelly has advised New England’s Bill Belichick on his fast-paced attack. Belichick adopted some of the principles, including one-word play calls at the line of scrimmage to increase the tempo even more.
“Chip Kelly will bring a positive attitude to the Browns,” tweeted former Colts coach Tony Dungy, whose son plays for Oregon. “He’s a great coach and his style will translate to the NFL.”
The next vacancy to fill would be the head of the personnel department, who will be carry the title of general manager or director of player personnel. The favorite is Michael Lombardi of NFL Network.
He worked with Banner in Philadelphia after working for the Browns from 1987-95. He hasn’t worked in an NFL front office since 2007 with the Raiders.
The Browns reportedly asked for permission to interview 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble. He’s among the NFL’s most sought-after GM candidates and may not be willing to come for less than final say over personnel decisions, which Banner doesn’t seem willing to give up.
If it’s Lombardi, Caplan said he’s been preparing for the job.
“Source said he has been working on free agency targets for the Browns,” Caplan tweeted.
Lombardi would direct the personnel department and evaluate talent, while working with Kelly and Banner on the major decisions such as trades, free agency and the draft. Kelly’s lack of NFL experience would seem to require veteran coaching and personnel staffs.
He almost accepted the Tampa Bay job after the 2011 season but returned to Oregon. He would be leaving now with the program under NCAA investigation.
He was asked after the Fiesta Bowl about the pros and cons of heading to the NFL.
“It’s more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn’t fit,” Kelly said of interviews. “I don’t really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that’s what this deal is all about for me. I’ll get an opportunity if people do call, see where they are. I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I’m going to be.”
One of the first questions facing Kelly would be what he plans to do at quarterback. The Browns have Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis under contract for 2013, but none is guaranteed to return.
Kelly’s quarterbacks at Oregon have been able to run with the ball – a necessity to execute the zone-read option – but he said this week a coach must adapt to his personnel. Weeden isn’t a threat to run but excelled throwing out of the spread at Oklahoma State and tweeted Friday he was joking when he said Monday he couldn’t run the zone-read offense.
It’s been a busy week for Haslam and Banner. They fired Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert on Monday and announced they would look for a coach first. They interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, ex-Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien.
|Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor was fined $7,875 for unnecessary roughness Sunday in the season finale against the Steelers.
A league spokesman said Taylor was fined because he struck the opponent away from the play on a run. Taylor delivered a forearm that knocked Steelers lineman Kelvin Beachum out of the game with a concussion.
After the game, Taylor said he didn’t do anything wrong.
“It’s between the whistles,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel.”
What about a fine from the league?
“I don’t care,” he said. “If I get a call, I get a call. I got it.”
No other fines were issued, despite Steelers offensive lineman Doug Legursky angering the Browns with a late dive at linebacker Craig Robertson’s legs.
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