September 20, 2014

Medina
Partly cloudy
58°F

Browns: Malzahn, Franklin on Cleveland’s radar

The Browns interviewed their first coaching candidate Wednesday, traveling to Seattle to meet with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, according to multiple reports.

The fast start to the coaching search doesn’t mean the resolution will come quickly. The search is expected to take at least a couple of weeks, and possibly longer.

Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner reportedly have interest in several candidates from the college and professional ranks — CBSSports.com speculated Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is a favorite to land the job — and it will take time to sift through the choices. A more practical reason for the timetable is that the perceived favorites are tied up with their teams.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, connected to the Cleveland opening before Rob Chudzinski was fired, will interview with the Browns this week during New England’s bye. But he isn’t permitted to interview again until the Patriots are eliminated or during the off week if they make it to the Super Bowl. A contract can’t be agreed upon until New England’s postseason is over.

The Patriots host a division-round game Jan. 11.

The same timetable is true for Quinn, with the Seahawks opening their postseason the same day. The Broncos host a second-round game Jan. 12, so offensive coordinator Adam Gase won’t be available until Jan. 13 at the earliest. He postponed any interviews until after the Broncos’ season is over.

Malzahn, 48, is an intriguing name because he was a relative unknown before Auburn’s magical run this year in his first season.

CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported the Browns are “very interested” in interviewing Malzahn and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, citing league sources. La Canfora reported “some believe Malzahn is actually the most likely of the group to land the position, though the process is still very much in its early stages.”

Haslam and Banner chased college coaches in their search last year. They interviewed Chip Kelly, who decided to leave Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien (headed to the Houston Texans) and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone, who was hired by the Bills last year.

Haslam is a huge booster of the University of Tennessee and familiar with the Southeastern Conference, where Auburn and Vanderbilt are also members.

Malzahn isn’t available to be interviewed as Auburn prepares for the national championship game vs. Florida State on Monday. He was named national coach of the year after Auburn won the SEC championship and went 12-1. Auburn was 3-9 last season.

Malzahn went 9-3 in his first year as a head coach with Arkansas State in 2012. He was Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11, and the Tigers won the 2010 national title with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.

Malzahn runs an up-tempo offense and Auburn leads the nation in rushing with 335.7 yards per game. It ranks 11th with 505.3 yards per game, 12th with 40.2 points per game and has scored 30 points in nine consecutive games for the first time in school history.

Malzahn hasn’t been previously connected to an NFL job, and it may be too early for a jump to the pros. He was coaching high school football in Arkansas in 2005 before entering the college ranks. He’s never been in the NFL.

Malzahn was rumored to be a candidate for the opening at the University of Texas, but signed a five-year, $26.85 million deal before the SEC title game.

“This is where I want to be. I love Auburn,” Malzahn said in December. “I’m a good fit for the Auburn Tigers.”

Vanderbilt’s Franklin, 41, is in the mix for jobs at Texas and Penn State, but seems like a bit of a stretch to be offered an NFL job. His only year in the NFL was 2005 as Green Bay’s receivers coach.

However, he was identified as a strong minority candidate to be an NFL coach by a panel of former executives and coaches. Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton was also on the list.

The Commodores play Saturday against Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Franklin took over a team that went 2-10 and has gone 6-6, 9-4 and 8-4.

Quinn got the first chance to make a good impression Wednesday. He was with the Seahawks in 2009-10, left to be defensive coordinator at Florida, then returned to Seattle as coordinator this year. The Seahawks had the NFL’s top defense, leading in points allowed (14.4 per game), yards per game (273.6) and yards per play (4.4).

Seattle’s base defense is a 4-3, but Quinn has experience in the 3-4 as a line coach under Nick Saban and Eric Mangini. Quinn’s system has been referred to as a hybrid and wouldn’t be that dissimilar to the one the Browns ran under Horton this season.

Quinn reportedly will interview with the Vikings on Saturday.

Despite names being added to the list, McDaniels remains the favorite, according to many NFL insiders. His connection to general manager Michael Lombardi drives the speculation, and they share strong ties to New England coach Bill Belichick.

La Canfora included in his report that fired Lions coach Jim Schwartz is expected to replace Horton as defensive coordinator. Banner told reporters Monday the next coach will get to pick his staff.

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