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After the Chip Kelly interview, does Jimmy Haslam finally make his run at Nick Saban?

Jan 04, 2013 -- 6:00am

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By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

Now down to business: The Browns coaching search comes to a conclusion with today’s reported interview of Oregon’s Chip Kelly.

This comes after Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner camped down in Arizona for a week and reportedly interviewed, in succession, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton (got that out of the way), former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt (why not?), Penn State coach Bill O’Brien (thanks for the $1.3 million raise, Nittany Lions) and Syracuse coach Doug Marrone (the .500 Big East coach). The latter two were Bill Belichick’s suggestions through Mike Lombardi.

Yes, Kelly may be the end of the interview process for Haslam and Banner. Haslam still has to meet and size up the man everyone is calling the favorite for the Browns’ job.

But the next order of business may be just that – a business meeting with Nick Saban.

All along, I’ve believed the Browns’ job was Saban’s for the taking. After this Kelly interview is taken care of, Haslam can refuel his jet, drop off Banner in Cleveland or Philadelphia, and go get himself a football coach down in south Florida where Saban is preparing Alabama for its third BCS Championship Game in four years. This one is against Notre Dame on Monday.

Striking a deal: There is no interview per se with Saban. Haslam doesn’t have to inquire, “Now, Nick, how would your system translate to our pro game?” Or, “Say, Nick, could you go over one more time why you need four quarterbacks who run a 4.4 40?”

The business meeting with Saban goes something like this: “Yes, full say-so in personnel, house in Bratenahl on Lake Erie, and you put the decimal point where you want it.”

Haslam, a devout University of Tennessee benefactor, has watched Saban dominate the Southeastern Conference for six years. In that time, Haslam’s beloved Volunteers have stumbled through three different coaches.

It’s kind of a snapshot of what Haslam bought into with his $1 billion purchase of the Browns. Alabama, with Saban, is Pittsburgh. Tennessee has been the Browns, changing coaches every two years.

Kelly is … well, in another era, he was Mouse Davis, who begat June Jones and Kevin Guilbride and the run-and-shoot craze that enjoyed a few years success until the NFL started practicing for it and then beat the tar out of those little receivers and quarterbacks.

I’m not saying that Kelly isn’t a good college coach or that his offensive principles don’t have merit. Belichick and others have borrowed from it. Kelly is sharp and innovative. And if you don’t think so, just ask him or Lombardi. You can send Saban’s offensive coordinator to one of Kelly’s renowned coaching clinics for some pointers on speeding up the tempo of your offense.

But in this league, you still have to block and tackle – and that is what Saban is all about.

Do you really want to entrust your $1 billion investment to a coach whose myriad supporters are not even 100 percent certain can succeed in the NFL? And do you really want to have a pure college coach from New Hampshire and Oregon rely on Banner and Lombardi to fill his unique player needs?

Will he or won’t he?: You get the feeling things have fallen perfectly for Saban to surprise everybody (again) by making another career move back to the NFL.

All week, Kelly has soaked up the media spotlight, playfully deflecting questions about his imminent jump to the NFL. After Kelly’s Oregon Ducks beat Kansas State, 35-17, in the Fiesta Bowl Thursday night, Kelly said, “I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I’m gonna be.”

Meanwhile, everyone assumes and reports that Saban is happy to retire in Alabama. It’s to the point where Saban isn’t even being pestered about it that much. Maybe it will pick up again after Kelly picks his NFL suitor. Not that Saban’s answers matter, anyway.

The page is turning to Saban just as reports have the Browns gearing up interest in pursuing Tom Gamble, the San Francisco 49ers director of player personnel.

Gamble is one of the most qualified GM candidates on the market. Gamble would probably require full general manager authority to leave the 49ers. He is being pursued by other teams for that capacity. I have never had the feeling that Banner would name a GM because none would likely accept the job in the configuration Banner has established.

But if Saban is landed as Browns coach, he would have the full authority on personnel. He couldn’t be bullied, or undermined. Saban is the strong leader that Haslam has to come home with. I think Haslam knows that.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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