The Browns can say whatever they want about their pursuit of Chip Kelly last year and who bailed on whom, but a large faction of the fan base will always believe he’s the one who got away in the eyes of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner.
Kelly, of course, was a red-hot candidate last year when he interviewed with the Browns, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles for their head-coaching vacancies in January 2013. After the interviews, he told the world he decided to return to the University of Oregon and then shocked everyone a couple of weeks later by accepting a chance to lead the Eagles.
Now the Eagles are 10-6 and preparing for a wild-card playoff game Saturday night. And Haslam and Banner are reportedly interested in this year’s crop of head-coaching candidates from the college ranks as they search for Rob Chudzinski’s successor after firing him Sunday night.
So who’s this year’s version of Kelly, if there is one?
Well, the Browns are “very interested” in interviewing Auburn University coach Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt University coach James Franklin, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported, citing unnamed league sources, just a couple of hours before the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. La Canfora also reported that the Browns “are expected” to hire ex-Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz as their new defensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, the Browns began their series of scheduled head-coaching interviews with NFL assistants when they met with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn Wednesday in Seattle, according to several national reports.
Quinn, 43, is in his 11th season as an NFL assistant. Using a 4-3 scheme, the Seahawks finished their first regular season with Quinn as a coordinator with the league’s No. 1-ranked defense (273.6 yards allowed per game). They also went 13-3, capturing the NFC West and home-field advantage for the playoffs.
The Browns also received permission to interview New England Patriots offensive coordinator and Canton native Josh McDaniels, 37, this week, a league source said. The interview with McDaniels is scheduled for Saturday, ESPN reported. The Arizona Cardinals also gave the Browns the green light to interview defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, 50, the Arizona Republic reported.
The Browns are not commenting on interviews during the search.
La Canfora speculated that Malzahn, Franklin and McDaniels are the favorites to succeed Chudzinski, whose record in his lone season as a head coach was 4-12. Malzahn, Franklin and McDaniels are offensive-minded coaches and clients of agent Jimmy Sexton, who has strong connections to Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi.
Malzahn, 48, has never coached in any capacity in the NFL, and he’s in just his second season as a college head coach — this season at Auburn and last season at Arkansas State. He’s 21-4 in those two seasons, and he’ll guide Southeastern Conference champion Auburn (12-1) in the BCS Championship Game Monday night against Florida State (13-0). He was recently named the Associated Press national coach of the year.
In six of his eight seasons as a college coach, Malzahn served as an offensive coordinator for Auburn (2009-11), Tulsa (2007-08) and Arkansas (2006). As a high school coach in Arkansas, Malzahn wrote a book titled, The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy. Kelly captured the NFL’s imagination with the fast-paced offense he ran at Oregon.
Franklin, 41, has led Vanderbilt to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons and compiled a record of 23-15, including 15-4 in the past 19 games. He’ll guide Vanderbilt (8-4) against the University of Houston (8-4) Saturday afternoon in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
He has been an assistant for several other colleges, including stints as an offensive coordinator at Maryland (2008-10) and Kansas State (2006-07). His NFL experience consists of being the Green Bay Packers’ wide receivers coach in 2005 and an intern with the Miami Dolphins in 1998. Through the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, he also worked for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 and Minnesota Vikings in 2008.
McDaniels is younger but has more NFL experience than Malzahn and Franklin. A Canton McKinley High School graduate, McDaniels spent nearly two seasons as the head coach of the Denver Broncos, compiling a record of 11-17 before being fired following Week 13 in 2010.
During a news conference Monday, Banner said whoever becomes the Browns’ seventh full-time head coach since 1999 would have the power to choose his assistants, which is one reason why La Canfora’s report about Schwartz being viewed as a front-runner to lead the defense is interesting.
The Lions fired Schwartz, a longtime friend of Lombardi, on Monday after he went 29-51 in five seasons as their head coach. Like Quinn, he uses a 4-3 defense.
The Browns just switched from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 last year under defensive coordinator Ray Horton. As is the case whenever a head coach is fired, none of Chudzinski’s top lieutenants are expected to return, including Horton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
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.