After flirting with the Browns and Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago, Chip Kelly returned to the University of Oregon and then ultimately shocked the world Wednesday by accepting the Eagles’ head-coaching job.
The Eagles announced their stunning hire after ESPN’s Chris Mortensen first reported the news early Wednesday afternoon. Kelly becomes the Eagles’ 21st head coach and replaces Andy Reid, who is now at the helm of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Browns hired Rob Chudzinski as their new head coach on Jan. 10 and are now looking for a personnel executive to pair with him.
But before the Browns called Chudzinski on Jan. 8 and interviewed him the next day, they went through a dramatic, roller-coaster ride of a process while pursuing Kelly as their top target out of the gate.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired coach Pat Shurmur on Dec. 31, and in the following days, camped out in Arizona so they could interview Kelly after Oregon defeated Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Haslam and Banner, the former president of the Eagles, interviewed Kelly for about seven hours on Jan. 4 and came close to reaching an agreement with him to fill their head-coaching vacancy, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported.
But by the end of the interview, Kelly reportedly told the Browns he still wanted to keep his previously scheduled meetings with the Eagles and Buffalo Bills, who were never considered a legitimate threat to win the Kelly sweepstakes and hired ex-Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone on Jan. 6. Haslam and Banner reportedly did not object to Kelly’s request.
The Browns were supposed to meet with Kelly a second time after he interviewed with the Eagles on Jan. 5, and ESPN and NFL Network both reported that afternoon that Cleveland was still the favorite to secure Kelly. However, the mood changed in the evening when Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a childhood friend of Banner, and his lieutenants engaged in a lunch meeting with Kelly that reportedly stretched into a nine-hour marathon session.
The interview didn’t end until about midnight and kept the Browns waiting. Brian Startare of SportsRadio 94 WIP Philadelphia reported the Eagles were close to a five-year deal with Kelly.
Lawyers were scheduled to attend the Browns’ second meeting with Kelly, a sign Haslam and Banner intended to work out a contract to make the spread-offense mastermind the franchise’s 14th full-time head coach and sixth since 1999.
The Browns, however, dropped out of the Kelly sweepstakes on Jan. 6 and flew back to Cleveland to restart their coaching search, a league source told the Beacon Journal. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the Browns did not comment on candidates or interviews during their search.
The night of Jan. 6, Kelly decided to return to Oregon, and everything appeared to be settled. But 10 days later, Kelly wound up joining the Eagles after all. Many wonder whether potential NCAA sanctions against Oregon, which has been implicated in a recruiting scandal, played a role in his final decision.
A news release published Wednesday on the Eagles’ website read: “The conversations continued until Kelly decided he wanted to remain at the University of Oregon. Still, Kelly continued to evaluate the opportunity to work for the Eagles in the NFL.”
The Browns, through their vice president of media relations, Neal Gulkis, declined to comment on Kelly’s choice to join the Eagles.
A person familiar with the Browns’ coaching search told the Associated Press that Kelly was indecisive about leaving Oregon, and the Browns chose to move on to other candidates on Jan. 6 after questioning whether he “was committed to coming to the NFL.” Kelly backed away from a chance to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year.
But Kelly’s move to the Eagles will fuel the perception that he left the Browns at the altar in Arizona, they realized it and decided to flee. It’s also reminiscent of March 2012, when the Browns were viewed as the front-runners but still lost a bidding war while attempting to trade with the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
If Chudzinski succeeds, none of it will matter to Cleveland sports fans. But if the Browns continue to struggle and Kelly flourishes, he’ll be viewed as another one who got away.
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.