Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner were expected to spend Saturday night wining and dining Chip Kelly in Arizona while trying to seal a deal to make him the 14th full-time head coach of the Browns.
But head-coaching searches can be very fluid in the NFL, and the Browns have been reminded that time and again during their wild quest to find Pat Shurmur’s successor.
After Kelly had a marathon meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles that reportedly lasted nine hours and ended at about midnight, he is expected to choose between the Browns, Eagles and the University of Oregon, where he used an innovative spread offense to compile a record of 46-7 in the past four seasons.
Meanwhile, Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone has agreed to become the next coach of the Buffalo Bills, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported early this morning. Marrone was a strong possibility for the Browns because they reportedly met with him Thursday and Saturday. He was also on the radars of the Eagles, Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers.
Marrone, 48, joined Syracuse in 2009 and has compiled a record of 25-25. A former NFL offensive lineman, Marrone served as the offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints from 2006-08. The Saints ranked first in total offense (410.7 yards per game) in 2008, fourth (361.2) in 2007 and first (391.5) in 2006.
With Marrone out of the picture, the Kelly sweepstakes became even more intriguing.
On Saturday night, Brian Startare of SportsRadio 94 WIP Philadelphia reported the Eagles were close to a five-year deal with Kelly. But Rapoport reported the Browns were close to a deal with Kelly on Friday that would make him their sixth full-time head coach since 1999. On Saturday afternoon, ESPN and NFL Network reported the Browns were still considered favorites to lure Kelly away from Oregon.
Lawyers were scheduled to attend the Browns’ Saturday dinner meeting with Kelly, Rapoport reported, a sign Haslam and Banner intended to work on a contract. But the Eagles kept fighting and made a last-ditch effort to persuade Kelly.
The communication between the Eagles and Kelly is expected to continue. The Eagles are also planning to interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy today, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. They were set to meet with Marrone today, too.
So now the derby for Kelly is between Banner, his old friends and Oregon.
The Eagles’ contingent of owner Jeffrey Lurie, General Manager Howie Roseman and President Don Smolenski is extremely familiar with Banner. Lurie and Banner were childhood buddies, and Banner spent 19 years with the Eagles, including the past 12 as their president, before joining the Browns in October as Haslam’s right-hand man.
The Browns will not comment on candidates or interviews until their search officially ends.
Haslam and Banner reportedly met with Kelly, 49, for about seven hours Friday. Although the Browns and Kelly were reportedly close to a deal Friday, 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. He interviewed with the Bills on Friday night and the Eagles flew to Arizona on Saturday for their meeting.
The Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert on Monday after finishing 2012 with a record of 5-11, their 12th losing season since their rebirth and their fifth in a row. They have since embarked on a wild ride to find Shurmur’s successor.
In addition to Kelly and Marrone, the Browns also reportedly interviewed former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Penn State University coach Bill O’Brien, who dropped out of the running Thursday night by deciding to stay with the Nittany Lions.
Of the five candidates known to have interviewed with the Browns, Kelly has been labeled as their primary target. They staked out in Arizona so they could talk to him after he guided Oregon to a 35-17 win over Kansas State on Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl.
With the Browns hot on Kelly’s heels, questions about whether his no-huddle, up-tempo, zone-read, spread attack would work in the NFL are at the forefront. He would likely need to strike a balance between using concepts from Oregon’s system and adjusting to the professional level.
NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, a former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, believes Kelly can do just that.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for him,” Brandt said Saturday in a phone interview. “He is prepared for an NFL job. I think that Chip Kelly can run [any offense] and be successful. He has done things with Oregon, and Oregon has no big talent. They haven’t had the USC or Miami types where they’ve got five or six or seven guys picked in the first round. So I think he has taken players that are not rated that high by people and puts them in the best positions.”
Many view Kelly’s expected leap into the NFL as a high-risk, high-reward endeavor. He has no experience in the league, though elite coaches, including the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, consider him a brilliant offensive innovator and have sought his advice about running a fast-paced offense.
Browns strong safety T.J. Ward is convinced Kelly could get the job done in the NFL. Ward played at Oregon during Kelly’s first two seasons as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator (2007-08) and his first year as their head coach (2009). Kelly has turned the Ducks into a national power, leading them to four consecutive BCS games.
“He’s a great motivator,” Ward said last week. “He comes in and he knows what he wants to do, and he gets his players to play for him and play hard. He has a great scheme, great system. He’s a high-energy coach.
“He’s in your face and he wants to get the best out of you, and you know that and he comes from that angle. He only wants the best for you. He’s not a guy who screams for no reason.”
Ward will remain the Browns’ top expert on Kelly if they don’t hire him. And with Marrone headed to the Bills, the Browns will need to come up with another backup plan if their pursuit of Kelly doesn’t pan out.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.