Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner waited for Oregon’s Chip Kelly to coach in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night.
They waited for him to meet with Buffalo and Philadelphia after a productive seven-hour meeting Friday had them feeling like Kelly would be their next coach.
By Sunday, the Browns were done waiting.
Haslam and Banner decided Kelly wouldn’t be their next coach because they questioned whether he “was committed to coming to the NFL,” a source told The Associated Press. Kelly hadn’t announced his choice among the Browns, Eagles or remaining at Oregon, but the Browns had moved on.
The question is: to whom?
Fired Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton interviewed last week and remain possibilities. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Haslam is impressed with Whisenhunt, who shares a Steelers connection and took Arizona to the Super Bowl.
Yahoo.com’s Jason Cole reported Sunday night the Browns’ search will add Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Marc Trestman, head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.
Kelly was Cleveland’s first choice, but after a week in Arizona designed to lure him to the Midwest, the Browns headed home empty-handed. Kelly’s hesitation may have been part of a plan to draw more money from the Eagles or Oregon.
Regardless, it left the Browns in full regroup mode.
The three men believed to be the team’s top candidates are out of the picture.
The Browns interviewed Bill O’Brien, but he got a raise and stayed at Penn State. They met with Syracuse’s Doug Marrone twice, but he was hired by the Bills early Sunday morning while the Browns waited for Kelly.
Kelly, who turned down the Buccaneers at the last minute last year, hadn’t decided between the Eagles and Oregon as of late Sunday night, but the feeling among insiders was that he’d return to the Ducks.
The two newest candidates have Cleveland ties.
Arians was coordinator in 2001-03 under Butch Davis. Trestman mentored Bernie Kosar as quarterbacks coach in 1988 under Marty Schottenheimer and offensive coordinator in 1989 under Bud Carson. He has two Grey Cup championships for the Alouettes and tutored Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden before the draft last year.
The renewed search could also include hot NFL coordinators from playoff teams. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are popular choices around the league.
None of Cleveland’s reported interviews in the week since the season ended involved a coach from a playoff team.
“Most of these top coaches are focused on finding a place where they think they can win and we think we can make a very good case why this is the best opportunity in the league right now,” Banner said last Monday.
Kelly appeared to be the clear-cut favorite of Haslam and Banner even before they fired coach Pat Shurmur last Monday. They waited in Arizona for Kelly to coach the Ducks to a 35-17 win Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl, then put on the full-court press to make him the 14th full-time coach in team history.
The Browns weren’t as effective as Kelly’s fast-forward, no-huddle, non-stop, four-plays-a-minute offense that intrigued them and excited their fans.
The Browns met with Kelly for seven hours Friday and reports circulated that a deal was “close,” but they let him get away without a signed contract. Kelly told the Browns he wanted to keep his scheduled meetings with the Bills and Eagles and would have dinner with them Saturday when he was done meeting with the Eagles.
But the Eagles dragged lunch into dinner and it appears Kelly never restarted serious negotiations with the Browns, despite an NFL.com report labeling them the “overwhelming favorite.”
Kelly has never played or coached in the NFL and spent 14 years as an assistant at his alma mater, New Hampshire. He joined Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator and is 46-7 in four years as head coach.
The Ducks are under investigation by the NCAA and face possible sanctions, but Kelly has five years left on his contract.
The Browns have remained consistent with their policy of not publicly commenting on interviews or potential candidates.
Losing Kelly is a huge blow to Haslam and Banner, who are conducting their first coaching search together. Of the seven NFL coaching vacancies, the Chiefs (Andy Reid) and Buffalo (Marrone) have been filled.
“We’re not going to worry about who else is out there looking for a coach,” Haslam said last week. “We have our people in mind and we’re going to work hard to bring the right person here to Cleveland.”
Whisenhunt played seven seasons in the NFL as a tight end and was Cleveland’s special teams coach in 1999. He could be the favorite in the clubhouse.
He spent six years in Pittsburgh — Haslam owned a minority stake in the Steelers – and took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, where they lost a nail-biter to the Steelers. He went 45-51 in six regular seasons in Arizona and 4-2 in the playoffs.
The Cardinals started this season 4-0 but finished 5-11 after a series of quarterback injuries and disasters. Whisenhunt was fired last Monday.
Haslam could also make another run at Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Haslam’s been told Saban isn’t leaving Alabama after the national championship tonight against Notre Dame, and Saban said Saturday he has no “unfinished business” in the NFL. But Haslam is a big fan and could try to tempt Saban back to the NFL.
He went 15-17 in two seasons at Miami before leaving for Alabama and was Cleveland’s defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick from 1991-94.
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