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Browns close to striking deal with Chip Kelly to make him their new coach, NFL Network reports

By Nate Ulrich Published: January 4, 2013

The Browns’ new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner traveled to Arizona this week on a search for a strong, dynamic leader, and it appears they’re on track to get their man.

University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly is close to striking a deal to become the 14th full-time head coach of the Browns, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Friday.

The Browns and Kelly wrapped up seven hours of meetings Friday that were characterized as “very positive,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported. But Kelly still interviewed with the Buffalo Bills later Friday night and is scheduled to do the same with the Philadelphia Eagles today, according to Mortensen.

The Browns and Kelly agreed to meet again tonight, and Cleveland is favored to secure Kelly, Mortensen reported. Kelly informed Haslam and Banner he wanted to go through the process by meeting with the Bills and Eagles, and they didn’t object to his wishes.

The Browns will not comment on candidates or interviews until they officially hire coach Pat Shurmur’s successor. They fired Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert on Monday after finishing 2012 with a record of 5-11, the franchise’s 12th losing season since its expansion era began in 1999.

According to NFL.com, Haslam and Banner began interviewing Kelly at about 2 p.m. Friday, less than 24 hours after he guided Oregon to a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. In his postgame news conference, Kelly said he was eager to get through the interview process and make a decision. He would become the Browns’ sixth full-time head coach since their rebirth.

“I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I’m going to be,” said Kelly, who’s known for his mastery of Oregon’s spread offense.

By Friday evening, all signs pointed to Northeast Ohio.

The Browns also reportedly interviewed Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone, former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Penn State University coach Bill O’Brien. They interviewed Horton on Tuesday and thus complied with the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams with head-coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate.

Kelly, though, appeared to be the top target of Haslam and Banner. Securing him would certainly be a victory in their eyes.

Haslam reached an agreement Aug. 2 to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion and is aiming to put his stamp on the organization. Banner served as president of the Eagles for the past 12 years and is competing with some familiar faces, including owner and childhood friend Jeffrey Lurie and General Manager Howie Roseman, in a quest to find a new coach.

The Browns’ previous regime of former President Mike Holmgren, Shurmur and Heckert fell short in the bidding last year to trade for the right to draft Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Haslam and Banner are determined not to be denied.

The Browns’ bigwigs said they would hire a head coach first and then a personnel executive who complements him. NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi, Seattle Seahawks vice president of football administration John Idzik and San Francisco 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble are among the candidates to head the Browns’ personnel department.

Kelly, a Manchester, N.H., native with 23 seasons of college coaching experience, would likely be paid a small fortune for a leap into the NFL. Last week, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton agreed to a five-year contract extension that is expected to pay him more than $8 million annually, ESPN reported. Kelly signed a six-year, $20.5 million contract extension with Oregon in September 2010 and made $3.5 million in guaranteed salary in 2012. It will reportedly cost about $3 million to buy out his contract.

Kelly, 49, has never coached in the NFL. However, his innovative, high-powered spread offense has drawn the attention and respect of some of the league’s top coaches. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl champion, told the Boston Globe in October that he asked Kelly for advice on how to streamline play calling and ensure his players were on the same page while employing a fast-paced system.

“I was interested to hear how he did it,” Belichick said. “I would say he expanded it to a different level and it was very interesting to understand what he was doing. Certainly I’ve learned a lot from talking to Chip about his experiences with it and how he does it and his procedure and all that.”

The Patriots, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers are among the teams that have adopted concepts associated with Kelly’s system. In four seasons as Oregon’s head coach, Kelly led the Ducks to a record of 46-7 and four consecutive Bowl Championship Series games.

Some are skeptical Kelly can succeed at the highest level of football. Others predicted he would make the transition because Oregon faces potential NCAA sanctions stemming from a recruiting scandal.

Regardless, the Browns are hoping Kelly will lead them into an elusive era of success. If Haslam and Banner are right about him, he will deliver.

Now they just need him to sign on the line.

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