Browns executives are lining up to speak with spread-offense mastermind Chip Kelly about their head-coaching vacancy after his University of Oregon team faces Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night in Glendale, Ariz., Jason La Canfora of CBS reported Tuesday.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert on Monday morning after the Browns finished their 12th losing season since 1999 with a record of 5-11. In a news conference a few hours later, the franchise’s new bigwigs explained they will hire a head coach first and then find a personnel executive to complement him.
Haslam and Banner said they wouldn’t comment on potential candidates during their search. But by Monday night, Kelly was labeled as their top choice by two high-ranking NFL personnel executives who spoke to Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com.
Banner was in Arizona on Tuesday, where he interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, La Canfora reported. Interviewing Horton would satisfy the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for their head-coaching vacancies.
But by being in Arizona, Banner would also be in position to interview Kelly. The Philadelphia Eagles, who fired coach Andy Reid on Monday, and Buffalo Bills are also looking to meet with Kelly after Oregon’s bowl game, La Canfora reported.
Last year, Kelly turned down a chance to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it’s unclear whether he would leave Oregon this year. La Canfora reported there’s a growing sense he might stay put. Kelly, 49, has been bombarded with questions about his future, and he’ll likely be asked to address the topic this morning, when he’s scheduled to hold another news conference to preview the game.
“I’ve got a game to play,” Kelly said during the Fiesta Bowl’s media day on Monday, according to the Associated Press. “We’re playing in the Fiesta Bowl. That’s the biggest thing in my life. If I allowed other things to get into my life, then they would be distractions, but there aren’t. Our focus 100 percent is on the Fiesta Bowl.
“My heart is to win today and that’s it. I know everybody wants to hear a different answer. And I know that at times when I don’t give you guys the answer that you guys want, then I’m being evasive. I’m not being evasive.”
Kelly might be influenced to enter the NFL because of potential NCAA sanctions stemming from a recruiting scandal. Some are skeptical he could succeed in the league because he has no NFL experience. Others doubt his high-powered, spread offense would work in the NFL, but that doesn’t seem to bother Banner.
“I think the game evolves and there is always some stealing from college into the pros and some stealing from going in the other direction,” Banner said Monday when asked if collegiate spread offenses are transferable to the NFL. “You probably can’t just take a pure NFL system and put it in college and have it work, and you probably can’t just take a purely clean current college system and put it in the pros and have it work. But that doesn’t mean there are things that the right coach could integrate from both systems that could work very well at this level.”
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, was asked if Kelly’s scheme is compatible with his skills.
“I don’t think I can run the zone read,” Weeden said.
But Banner believes a good coach could find a way to succeed even if he doesn’t have the right quarterback immediately.
“There is nothing that you’re going to do in which you’re not going to hit some obstacles that could keep you from reaching your goals,” Banner said. “That’s 100 percent of us all the time. There are some people that no matter what those are find ways to overcome them and find ways to achieve their goals. So whether you’ve got the right player at this position or that position in place at this moment, to the right person who has a history and a track record of finding ways to overcome obstacles and succeed, those will be temporary challenges.”
Kelly, though, is not the only high-profile college coach on the Browns’ radar.
If they can’t get Kelly, the Browns will push for Penn State University coach Bill O’Brien, La Canfora reported. The Cardinals, Eagles and San Diego Chargers are expected to court him as well. On Tuesday, Peter King of Sports Illustrated tweeted that O’Brien “is strongly considering interviewing with an NFL team.”
O’Brien, a former New England Patriots assistant who served as their offensive coordinator in 2011, was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year after he guided Penn State to a record of 8-4 in his first season. O’Brien, 43, succeeded Joe Paterno and led the Nittany Lions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that when O’Brien accepted the Penn State job, school officials told him the Sandusky scandal was a criminal matter, not an NCAA issue. However, Penn State received a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions. It could cost $9.2 million to buy out O’Brien’s contract, Mortensen reported.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.