I should be popping the cork on that New Year’s Eve just-in-case mini-bottle of Domaine Chandon and toasting the Browns’ anticipated hiring of Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Since the Browns brought in Pat Shurmur, I’ve harped about creativity, predictability and the antiquated West Coast offense. I’ve longed for a coach who would build his scheme around his players’ strengths. I’ve lusted after an offensive genius to change Northeast Ohio’s professional football fortunes.
Yet now I find myself trying to fight through a be-careful-what-you-wish-for funk.
With the Browns considered the front-runner to land Kelly, it appears they are about to get everything I’ve dreamed of for at least the past two years. Perhaps all the way back to 1987, when Lindy Infante was calling plays in his final season as Browns offensive coordinator.
Kelly is an innovator, the architect of a fast-break Ducks offense that averaged 49.6 points per game this season. So used to Shurmurball (or even Tresselball), when I updated Oregon’s stats after the Fiesta Bowl victory Thursday night and that number came up, I did the math three more times.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has even picked Kelly’s brain about his no-huddle spread offense and incorporated some of his concepts this season.
With Kelly, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam landed the coaching version of Andrew Luck. The No. 1 draft choice. The best man available. Especially if Alabama coach Nick Saban told Haslam last week, perhaps through a third party, to go on with their search without him. According to reports by ESPNCleveland.com and WKYC Channel 3, that was the case, with Saban saying he might have felt differently if he were 51 instead of 61.
Kelly is 49, single, with no children, seemingly a football lifer. He fits the profile Haslam outlined Monday — “a strong leader, tough, smart, very organized, great attention to detail and aggressive.” Kelly should bring the “fresh energy” that CEO Joe Banner sought, along with the potential for stability that has characterized Haslam’s Pilot Flying J truck stop empire and Banner’s 19 years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kelly knows what kind of players he needs for his frenetic offense and the Browns have the salary cap space to get them. All Kelly cares about is points, scarce in Cleveland since the days of Bernie Kosar. Kelly also knows what he doesn’t know, staying away from defense even though he coached on that side of the ball for three years at his alma mater New Hampshire.
After years of dull game plans and Phil Dawson field goals, fireworks are on the way to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Not to mention helmets and a uniform that might finally put the fear of Dawg in someone.
The Browns will be energized by Kelly’s aggression on offense, which should carry over to the defensive side. Running back Trent Richardson and receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little should be key building blocks.
But I want to see Kelly’s gimmicky scheme work in a real NFL game. I want to see the Browns’ offensive line block in such a run-heavy attack and average more than its paltry 4.0 yards per carry (21st in the league) in 2012. I want to be convinced they can handle Kelly’s pace. After all, didn’t backup quarterback Colt McCoy concede that he was throwing intentional incompletions in Denver because his offensive teammates were tired in the mile-high altitude?
More than anything, I want to know who the Browns quarterback is going to be, and better make that plural. Three on a roster won’t be enough. In his first season in Eugene in 2009, the Ducks started four quarterbacks over the final four games due to injury, and they weren’t absorbing the blunt force trauma of James Harrison.
Under Kelly, the Browns’ practice squad might be nothing but signal-callers. Josh Cribbs’ career with the Brown might be saved. The prerequisites for incoming draftees and free agents will be speed, quickness and high school or college quarterback experience.
Apparently Brandon Weeden, last year’s 22nd overall pick, need not apply. Considering Weeden’s lack of mobility and McCoy’s lack of arm strength, it appears the Browns will resume their search for a franchise quarterback when Kelly arrives.
(Terrelle Pryor, anyone? Ohio State’s NCAA sanctions and bowl ban aside, his gazelle-like strides would be a thing of beauty on a Kelly team.)
It’s not the questionable track record of college coaches in the NFL that brings me pause. Breaking out of the league’s good ol’ boys recycling bin is a plus in my mind, even though Kelly’s lack of league experience will require a stronger player personnel director.
It’s not that I doubt Kelly’s outside-the-box strategies. Having a coach who knows more than Belichick about something, anything, will be unprecedented in these parts.
It’s not that I’m afraid of taking a chance. That’s what I wanted Shurmur to do for the last 32 games.
Perhaps it’s the sight of a blotchy-faced McCoy standing at the podium in Pittsburgh in December 2011 with a soon-to-be diagnosed concussion that haunts me. Perhaps I worry that when Kelly’s quarterbacks take off and run, the NFL’s bigger, stronger, faster defenders will always win.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.