Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are on a Duck hunt in the desert, and they’re aiming to snag their top target.
The Browns are expected to interview University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly on Friday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said on NFL 32 Wednesday evening. The Browns are searching for their sixth full-time head coach since 1999 after firing Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert on Monday.
Kelly will lead his Oregon Ducks against the Kansas State Wildcats tonight in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are in Arizona, where they interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton on Tuesday night, the Arizona Republic reported.
The Browns won’t comment on any candidates or interviews during their search.
Kelly is the No. 1 choice of the Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, according to reports by Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com and Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Banner spent 19 years with the Eagles, including the past 12 as their president, so he and some familiar faces — including owner Jeffrey Lurie and General Manager Howie Roseman — are on track to vie for Kelly’s services.
In addition to the Browns and Eagles, the Buffalo Bills are also scheduled to interview Kelly by the end of this weekend, Mike Garafolo of USA Today reported.
Kelly, who turned down an offer to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, was asked Wednesday during a Fiesta Bowl news conference if he expects to field offers from NFL teams in the next week.
“I don’t expect anything,” Kelly said. “I said this a million times: I’m never surprised by anything. I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game tomorrow night, and I’m going to be there.”
Oregon is known for using a high-powered, zone-read spread offense. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is among the NFL coaches who have talked to Kelly about his offensive philosophies.
But Kelly has no experience in the league. So would his system work in the NFL?
“I don’t think anybody knows any answers until someone does it,” Kelly said. “The Washington Redskins are doing a pretty good job. … [Quarterback Cam Newton in] Carolina has done a pretty good job. But it depends. I don’t know. I’ve never coached in that league. I visited practices and talked to people about it. The one thing about that, about everything, you have to have good players. Sometimes the coaching aspect is way overrated. We don’t play the game. I think college football is a personnel-driven game. So is the NFL. Your job as a coach very simply is to put your players in positions to make plays, get out of the way and go make them.”
Kelly, 49, emphasized that making sure an offense meshes well with the players on the roster is vital to success.
“Anything you do has to be personnel driven,” Kelly said. “You have to adapt to the personnel you have. There’s a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? The key is making sure what you’re doing is giving your people a chance to be successful.”
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Wednesday that Kelly would not require or ask for total control of football operations before accepting an NFL job. Banner said he wants the coach to have final say on the 53-man roster, meaning the coach would determine who makes the team and who dresses on game days. But Banner pointed out that the coach wouldn’t necessarily be the ultimate authority when it comes to drafting, signing and trading players. Football operations will report to Banner, so he’ll wield significant power in those areas no matter how the responsibilities are divided once a coach and personnel chief are in place.
No hard feelings
In his first interview since being fired, Shurmur told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday night that he doesn’t blame Haslam and Banner for wanting to bring in their own people. Once Haslam struck a deal Aug. 2 to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion, the futures of Shurmur, Heckert and former President Mike Holmgren were in doubt.
“I kind of knew it might be an uphill struggle when the team sold in the summer,” Shurmur said. “And Jimmy and Joe, I wish them the best of luck in their endeavors as they try to move the team forward. That’s typically what happens when there is major change above you as a coach. It’s safe to say. And I don’t begrudge them for wanting to get their own people. That’s typically how it works.”
Horton told Arizona reporters his interview with the Browns was “fantastic.” By interviewing Horton, the Browns satisfied the Rooney Rule, which requires each NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching vacancy.
Horton, 52, interviewed with the Cardinals and Bills, too. Horton conceded the Cardinals would be his No. 1 choice.
Horton is a former Pittsburgh Steelers assistant who runs a 3-4 defense. The Browns have used a 4-3 defense in each of the past two seasons.
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter signed a contract extension that will keep him off the market, Falcons coach Mike Smith confirmed while speaking to Atlanta reporters Wednesday.
Koetter, 53, was scheduled to interview with the Browns and Eagles, and he made the decision to stay put after interviewing with the Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday, Fox Sports’ Alex Marvez reported.
On Wednesday, NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi, who is reportedly a candidate to head the Browns’ personnel department, told 92.3 The Fan the Browns have not contacted him yet. Lombardi also said he “would certainly listen” if they reached out. … Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reported some NFL teams with head coaching vacancies have sent out feelers to University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, but he has told them he’s not returning to the league. He went 15-17 in two seasons (2005-06) as the coach of the Miami Dolphins, and his name has been linked to the Browns for months. … Former Eagles coach Andy Reid had interviews set up Wednesday with the Kansas City Chiefs and Cardinals, Mortensen reported. Reid is close with Shurmur, Heckert and Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress.
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.