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Browns start over again after returning home without a coach

Jan 06, 2013 -- 3:03pm


By Tony Grossi

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner were returning to Cleveland on Sunday without Chip Kelly and without a leading replacement.

The Oregon coach either spurned the Browns or turned them off with his waffling. Multiple national reports Sunday said that Kelly no longer is at the top of the Browns’ wish list.

Kelly reportedly is deliberating whether to join the Philadelphia Eagles or return to Oregon, where NIKE chairman and Oregon benefactor Phil Knight reportedly was pushing for Kelly to stay.

Kelly became the front-runner for the Browns’ job when Nick Saban informed Haslam that he would not leave Alabama, ESPN Cleveland reported. The Browns also had interviewed Bill O’Brien, who decided to stay at Penn State, and Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, who agreed to become coach of the Buffalo Bills.

The only other known candidates interviewed by the Browns during their five-day campout in Arizona were Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Whether or not Horton and Whisenhunt remain viable candidates is uncertain. The team has not commented on its search since a press conference with Haslam and Banner on Monday.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported the Browns will restart their search without Kelly. Previous to that report, Jason Cole of reported the situation with the Browns and Kelly was “fluid,” which means it could change.

So where do the Browns go from here in filling the jobs vacated by the firing of coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert a week ago?

Theoretically, Haslam could revisit Saban after he coaches Alabama in the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame in south Florida Monday night.

Also, the Browns could reconsider assistant coaches involved in the playoffs. None of their first batch of interviews included them, as Haslam seemed intent on filling the head coach position with candidates from the college ranks.

NFL assistant coaches who have been linked – either by requested interviews, or by speculative reports – to head coach openings include: Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

Two other slim possibilities are former coaches-turned-network analysts Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden.

As for replacing Heckert, the Browns have not formally interviewed anyone, as they said they preferred hiring a coach first.

They reportedly have requested permission to interview: Tom Gamble, 49ers player personnel director; George Paton, Vikings assistant general manager; and Ray Farmer, Chiefs director of pro personnel.

It is also well-known in NFL circles that Mike Lombardi has designs on a position under Banner. In fact, reports have intimated that Lombardi was the driving force in the head coach search, as Kelly, O’Brien and Marrone all had links to Lombardi. Now that the Browns have struck out on all three, Lombardi’s future role with the club is uncertain.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

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

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi


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