By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
The Browns better hope Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is worth the wait because other head-coaching candidates on their list are dropping out of contention with alarming frequency.
Gase is expected to go through with an interview with the Browns once his team is finished with the postseason, the Denver Post reported Tuesday morning. Two NFL sources told the Post the Browns are waiting to interview Gase, a perceived favorite to land the job, before they hire their seventh full-time head coach since 1999.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired coach Rob Chudzinski Dec. 29 after the Browns went 4-12 during his first season on the job.
Since then, the Browns have reportedly interviewed two candidates who withdrew from consideration — Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — and two more who took other jobs — Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo and San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. The Browns are not commenting on interviews or even confirming that they occurred.
Those developments have fueled the perception that the Browns are a toxic organization. NFL Network’s Albert Breer tweeted this past weekend that the job is viewed as “radioactive.”
Bowles, a former Browns secondary coach, interviewed with the team Jan. 3 but decided to back out, according to reports that surfaced Tuesday. A source told ESPN.com that Bowles simply did not want the job because the franchise is in constant flux and partly because of Chudzinski’s quick dismissal.
McDaniels, who grew up in Canton, also withdrew from consideration last week after he reached out to the Browns following his Jan. 4 interview and was told he was not the front-runner, a league source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the search.
During a conference call Tuesday with Patriots reporters, McDaniels publicly addressed the decision for the first time and said he would “definitely” return to New England next season.
“I think all it means is I made a decision that this is the right time for me to be here,” McDaniels said. “I’m really happy here, I’ve said that numerous times. There’s not really much else to it. It’s a process you go through sometimes, and you ultimately have to make choices based on what’s best for you and your family, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Meanwhile, McAdoo chose to accept the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator job Tuesday instead of remaining in the mix for the Browns’ head-coaching gig, which he interviewed for Jan. 8. And Whisenhunt became the head coach of the Tennessee Titans on Monday after interviewing with the Browns this past weekend.
Seven NFL teams fired a head coach in the past month. On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions hired Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell as their head coach, so the Browns and Minnesota Vikings are the only teams who haven’t filled their openings.
As the Browns absorb a public-relations beating for their drawn-out search, they’re banking on their choice to wait for an assistant (or assistants) in the playoffs. Gase could be their top target.
Gase and the Broncos will face the Patriots at 3 p.m. Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. If the Broncos lose, Gase could interview with the Browns as early as Sunday night or Monday. If the Broncos win and advance to face either the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks at 6:25 p.m. Feb. 2 in Super Bowl XLVIII, the earliest he could interview with the Browns would be Feb. 3.
The Browns submitted their first interview request to Gase, and NFL rules would’ve allowed him to carry out the meeting before the conclusion of wild-card weekend Jan. 5 because the Broncos had a bye. However, Gase told the Browns and Vikings he wouldn’t satisfy their interview requests until the Broncos were finished with the playoffs. The Vikings have seemingly moved on and are whittling down their list of candidates to finalists, which could include Bowles and is reportedly led by Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
“I told both teams that were interested in me that I appreciated it and I was going to wait until after our season had concluded,” Gase told Denver reporters Jan. 3. “They were great about it. They said they appreciated me being upfront and honest about it, and I thought that was the best decision for what we are trying to accomplish with our team.”
Gase’s postponement raised questions about whether he would actually interview with the Browns at all. It also led many to assume that he might not want to be a head coach right now. Even if he interviews as is now expected, there’s no guarantee he’ll jump at the opportunity to coach the Browns or that his agent, Bob LaMonte, will advise him to do so.
After all, Gase is only 35, and he’s in his first season as a coordinator. So who could blame him if he wanted to stay with the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning for another season to increase the quantity and quality of head-coaching opportunities he could receive in the future?
Either way, several national reporters have labeled Gase a front-runner to replace Chudzinski. It might seem strange to call Gase the favorite before he has even interviewed, but the fact that the Browns are willing to wait for him proves their level of interest could lead to a job offer. One reason they might be enamored with Gase is Haslam’s long-standing friendship with Manning, who would certainly qualify as a valuable reference.
There are two other candidates known to have interviewed with the Browns who remain possibilities: former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Like Gase, Quinn is still in the playoffs.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.