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Browns coaching search enters its third week amid league-wide skepticism about the merits of the job

Jan 13, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/CBS

The Morning Kickoff …

The search goes on: The elimination of the San Diego Chargers in the AFC playoffs by the Denver Broncos on Sunday means three things for the Browns:

1. San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is now available to be hired as head coach.

2. Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase still is not.

3. This thing isn’t close to being wrapped up.

Whisenhunt interviewed late last week with Detroit, Tennessee and the Browns, who interviewed him twice last year before rejecting him. The Lions are seen as the front-runner to hire Whisenhunt. The Titans and Browns still want to interview other candidates involved in the playoffs – Tennessee is waiting for Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and the Browns are waiting for Gase.

The network pre-game “insiders” on Sunday reported the Browns will wait it out for Gase, and may want to interview Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and also Auburn University head coach Gus Malzahn. None of the national “insiders” bit on the Jim Tressel non-story.

There also were reports that the Browns are not on the same page in the direction they want to pursue (denied by a team source), that fired coach Rob Chudzinski has been “honest” when asked by potential candidates about the Browns’ situation, and that the Browns’ job league-wide is seen as “radioactive.”

This is not a good look.

Actually, this is a bad look.

Why would a coach want this job?: On paper, there are legitimate reasons why the Browns’ job should be highly coveted.

1. The Browns had five players named All-Pro selections, matching San Francisco and Kansas City for the league high. Those players all are under the age of 30 – offensive tackle Joe Thomas, 29; center Alex Mack, 28; safety T.J.Ward, 27; cornerback Joe Haden, 24; and receiver Josh Gordon, 22. A sixth, tight end Jordan Cameron, 25, joined them as a Pro Bowl selection.

Of course, the futures of Mack and Ward are uncertain. Both are likely to leave in free agency.

2. While the Browns don’t have a franchise quarterback in hand, they are in decent position to land one. They own the fourth and 26th overall picks in the first round of the draft. They also have all their picks in Rounds 2 through 7 and extra selections in Round 3 (Pittsburgh) and Round 4 (Indianapolis).

3. According to reports, the Browns have over $46 million in salary cap room entering the 2014 season.

4. The owner, Jimmy Haslam, is a billionaire and eager to prove to his new market that he can make good on his word to bring a winner to Cleveland.

5. The Browns are kicking off a two-phased renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium that is estimated to cost $120 million. This comes after a $5 million renovation of the team’s headquarters in Berea.

6. Haslam is approaching the mid-way point of a two-year market research project that will result in a completely new uniform look for 2015. The change is geared to symbolize an energized franchise emerging from a decades-long hibernation of staleness. A new coach can feed off that energy.

Why wouldn’t a coach want this job?: These are serious issues inside the league and are not figments of media imagination.

1. The new regime of Haslam and CEO Joe Banner just cut the legs out from a coach with a four-year contract after one season. Moreover, the first-year coach was an Ohio native and lifetime Browns fan who had bought into management’s long-term building philosophy.

2. The organizational set-up calls for the coach to report directly to Banner. Most coaches who have the benefit of options want to report directly to the owner so that their security is not subject to Banner’s whims.

3. Banner’s decision to be the head of football operations is a turn-off. Inside the league, he is seen as a salary cap specialist whose numbers-crunching does not take into account locker room chemistry and other intangibles important to team unity.

4. The appointment of Mike Lombardi to general manager is a huge turn-off. Lombardi’s reputation within the league is that of a coach-killer, and Chudzinski’s one-and-done experience not only enhanced it but took it to another level. Few in the league can understand Banner’s infatuation with Lombardi.

5. Haslam’s potential legal problems with the FBI and IRS raise the issue of ownership instability. Although Haslam insists his company, Pilot Flying J, will have a positive resolution when the federal probe is concluded, there is the real possibility of Haslam having to defer control of the franchise to a family member while the federal case is adjudicated.

At the press conference to announce the firing of Chuzinski, Haslam said:

“I still am convinced that this group can not only identify but attract and recruit the right person to come here. I think a lot of it is … I’ve gotten to talk to people around the country who know the NFL – these are people who really know the NFL – the first thing they say to me is, ‘Do you know what you’ve got there? Do you know what a great franchise that is?’ They talk about it in terms like the Packers and the Steelers.

“That adds even more … I hate to keep using the word pressure, but more strong feelings that we need to get this right. Yes, we do think we can get (our head coach). We’re not naïve to the fact that we just let a first-year head coach go, but we think we can attract the right candidate here.”

Clock ticking.

 

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 46 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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