October 24, 2014

Medina
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(Updated) Browns on hold: Eagles enter picture as serious contender for Oregon coach Chip Kelly

The courting of Chip Kelly continues.

The Browns had hoped to finalize a deal with the University of Oregon coach, but as of Sunday morning he hadn’t decided between the Eagles, the Browns and returning to Oregon.

It’s a fascinating duel between Browns CEO Joe Banner and the Eagles’ front office. Banner helped run the Eagles for nearly two decades before leaving last year, and he was childhood friends with owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Losing Kelly would be a huge blow to Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner, who are conducting their first coaching search together after firing Pat Shurmur on Monday.

Kelly was reportedly their clear-cut first choice even before Shurmur was fired, and the Browns’ brass set up camp in Arizona all week as they waited for Kelly to coach the Ducks on Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

Kelly, 49, reportedly told the Browns on Friday he would have dinner with them Saturday when he was done meeting with the Eagles. But the Eagles dragged lunch into dinner, meeting with him for nine hours. It’s unclear if the Browns have met with him again.

If Kelly winds up in Philadelphia, it would be a comeback victory.

The Eagles’ contingent returned to Philadelphia on Friday after Kelly to Cleveland appeared to be a done deal. But Kelly and agent David Dunn decided to fulfill their schedule and meet with the Bills and Eagles. Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and team president Don Smolenski boarded a plane Saturday morning and flew back to Arizona.

The Browns still appeared to have the inside track — NFL.com reported Saturday afternoon they were the “overwhelming favorite” — but the Eagles weren’t going down without a fight.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Kelly was expected to make a decision by the end of Saturday night. But nothing had been decided as of this morning. Last year, Kelly appeared set to become coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only to return to Oregon.

The Browns held to their policy of not commenting until they make a hire.

The Browns’ backup plan of Syracuse’s Doug Marrone is no longer viable. He agreed to coach the Bills early Sunday morning, according to multiple reports.

The Browns reportedly met with Marrone on Saturday for the second time this week after the Eagles returned to Arizona to meet with Kelly.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported the Browns were trying to figure out their choice between Kelly and Marrone.

Marrone would’ve been a letdown for many fans. He was a virtual unknown a week ago, but fits Banner’s profile of doing extensive research to unearth a quality candidate.

Marrone, 48, was born in the Bronx and played offensive line at Syracuse and in the NFL for two seasons. He was 25-25 in four years at Syracuse, turning around a dismal program.

Unlike Kelly, he has NFL experience as a player and coach.

The Browns did their due diligence during the week, interviewing Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, ex-Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. O’Brien signed an extension to stay at Penn State.

But Kelly was their primary target.

He is a relative newcomer to big-time football. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1990 and spent 14 years there as an assistant in two stints.

He didn’t reach Division I until 2007, when Oregon hired him as offensive coordinator. He became head coach in 2009 and became the first coach in history to reach a BCS bowl game in each of his first four seasons.

Kelly lost 22-19 to Auburn and Cam Newton in the national championship in January 2011, but compiled a 46-7 record. The Ducks went 12-1 this season, averaging 49.6 points and 537.4 yards per game. The Browns went 5-11, averaging 18.9 and 314.2.

Oregon won 12 games for the third straight season. The Browns have lost at least 10 games for five straight years, tied for the second-longest stretch in NFL history.

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