Longtime University of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was recently labeled a potential favorite to be hired by the Browns, and he hasn’t said anything to silence the rumblings created by a former NFL personnel executive.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are searching for the franchise’s seventh full-time head coach since 1999 after firing Rob Chudzinski, who went 4-12 and ended his only season on the job with a seven-game losing streak.
So when Tony Softli tweeted that “Stoops may have the inside track on the Cleveland Browns opening” Thursday night during Oklahoma’s 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it immediately created a stir on social media. Softli was the Carolina Panthers’ director of college scouting and the St. Louis Rams’ vice president of player personnel before becoming a sideline reporter for the Rams and an insider for St. Louis radio station ESPN 101.
Stoops was not asked about being connected to the Browns’ head-coaching vacancy during his postgame news conference Thursday night, but according to the Oklahoman, he had the following exchange with Sooners beat writers Friday morning:
“You never know,” Stoops said about the rumor that he could become the next coach of the Browns.
Asked if it’s all speculation, Stoops said, “There’s a lot of that.”
So is that all this is?
“Sure,” Stoops said.
He faced similar questions earlier Friday morning on The Dan Patrick Show and declined to reveal whether the Browns have reached out to him about the job.
“I never acknowledge or deny whether anybody’s contacted me or not,” Stoops said. “It’s something publicly I don’t do one way or the other.”
Will he be interested at some point in entering the NFL?
“You never know what’ll come your way,” Stoops said. “In life, things change from year to year. Right now, I love what I’m doing. Right now, it’s something I’m not looking to pursue. You never know down the road.”
There was another rumor that sent Northeast Ohio into frenzy Friday, but it was shot down. Fox Sports 1350, citing a source, reported that former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel, who’s now the University of Akron’s executive vice president, would interview with the Browns for their head-coaching vacancy within the next couple of days. However, a source familiar with the Browns’ search told the Beacon Journal that the report about Tressel is “not true.”
Stoops, 53, is a Youngstown native and a graduate of Cardinal Mooney High School. He has a Cleveland-based agent, Neil Cornrich.
Stoops led Oklahoma to a record of 160-39 and a bowl game in each of the 15 seasons since he became the Sooners’ coach in 1999. He’s the only coach to win all four BCS bowl games, and he has coached 65 players at Oklahoma who went on to become NFL draft picks, including 13 selected in the first round.
In July, Stoops received a contract extension from the school through the 2020 season, though it did not include a pay increase. In 2011, he signed a seven-year, $34.5 million deal.
Before Stoops took control at Oklahoma, he served as a defensive coordinator for Florida (1996-98) and Kansas State (1991-95). One of his previous stops as an assistant was at Kent State in 1988.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Stoops “has expressed some interest in joining the NFL.” As for the Browns, Haslam and Banner certainly don’t exclude candidates from the college ranks in their coaching searches. Last year, they interviewed former University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and former Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone who are now with the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills, respectively.
This year, the Browns are interested in Auburn University coach Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt University coach James Franklin, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported Tuesday.
The Browns have already met with a couple of NFL assistant coaches about their opening. They interviewed Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Wednesday, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Friday and are scheduled to interview New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels today, according to several national reports.
NFL rules prohibit coaches in the league from receiving job offers until their teams are eliminated from the playoffs. Quinn and McDaniels are members of playoff teams who have byes this weekend and won’t play until Jan. 11. Bowles is free to accept a job because the Cardinals did not qualify for the postseason.
The Browns also requested permission to interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, but he said he’s postponing all interview opportunities until the Broncos are done with the postseason. The Broncos also have a bye this weekend and won’t play until Jan. 12.
The Browns are not commenting on interviews during the search.
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.