By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
James Franklin has officially been eliminated as a possibility to become the Browns’ seventh full-time head coach since 1999.
Penn State announced Saturday morning that it hired Franklin as its coach after he spent the previous three seasons at Vanderbilt University. Last week, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports labeled Franklin, 41, and Auburn University’s Gus Malzahn, 48, as college coaches in whom the Browns were very interested.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last week that the Browns and Washington Redskins requested interviews with Franklin, who led Vanderbilt to a bowl game in each of his three seasons with the program and compiled a record of 24-15. The Redskins announced Thursday that they hired former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as their head coach. On the other hand, the Browns are still looking to replace Rob Chudzinski, who was fired Dec. 29 after just one season on the job.
The Browns, though, have not given up on landing Malzahn or Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, La Canfora reported Saturday night. They also might seek an interview with Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, according to the report.
McDermott, 39, had not previously been linked to the Browns’ opening. He helped the Panthers’ defense finish the 2013 regular season ranked second in the NFL (301.2 yards allowed per game). McDermott was an assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2010, including the last two as defensive coordinator, so he knows Browns CEO and former Eagles President Joe Banner well.
The Browns interviewed San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on Saturday, according to reports. They interviewed him twice last year before choosing Chudzinski, who went 4-12 in his lone season.
Whisenhunt went 45-51 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoffs as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2007-12. He guided the Cardinals to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, when they lost 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But quarterback Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season, and the Cardinals went 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11 the next three years. They fired Whisenhunt, 51, following the 2012 season.
“I think a big part of the situation was me retiring from Arizona, and they were never able to fully replace me,” Warner said during an interview Friday on the Browns’ radio show. “Oftentimes the coach goes with the quarterback, and I thought he accomplished too much there to be let go kind of the way he was. But sometimes you need a change, and he moved on to San Diego and did a tremendous job getting [Chargers quarterback] Philip [Rivers] back to where we knew he could be. I’ve got nothing but rave reviews for Ken Whisenhunt and the kind of person and coach he is.
“He’s a quality individual first, which I think is most important when you get into a job like that in the NFL because I’ve seen a lot of guys change due to the pressure that can come with being a head coach in the National Football League. [He’s] a quality individual and a solid coach. He’s a great leader, good offensive mind, understands how to work with players and very much a player’s coach.’”
In his first season with the Chargers, Whisenhunt helped the offense finish the regular season ranked fifth in the NFL (393.3 yards per game). He also has recently interviewed for the head-coaching vacancies of the Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans.
“I felt like when we hired him, I was like, ‘We’re not going to have him for long,’ ” Rivers told San Diego reporters. “That’s just me. That was the feeling from before I first met him. Now from being around him, I can see why guys would come after him.”
The Browns also have interviewed New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, 37, Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, 36, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 43, and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, 50, according to reports.
The team is not commenting on interviews.
Like Franklin, McDaniels was crossed off the list. He removed himself from consideration for the job after he reached out to the Browns following his interview Jan. 4 and was told he wasn’t the front-runner, a league source said Wednesday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the search. NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported the primary reason for McDaniels staying with the Patriots is to create stability for his family. He and his wife have four young children.
The first interview request the Browns submitted went to Gase, 35. However, Gase said he would postpone all interview opportunities until the Broncos are done with the playoffs. There are no guarantees Gase will interview at all, La Canfora reported.
Gase and the Broncos will face Whisenhunt and the Chargers in a divisional playoff game at 4:40 p.m. today. McDermott and the Panthers will face the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC postseason showdown at 1:05 p.m. today.
NFL rules prohibit teams from offering jobs to coaches who are still in the playoffs.
GM interview complete
The Miami Dolphins announced Saturday that they interviewed Browns Assistant General Manager Ray Farmer for their GM opening.
Farmer spent the 2013 season with the Browns after serving as the Kansas City Chiefs’ director of pro personnel (2006-12) and a pro scout for the Atlanta Falcons (2002-05). The Miami Herald, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday that Farmer is the leading candidate to become the Dolphins’ next GM.
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.