By NATE ULRICH
Akron Beacon Journal
The Cleveland Browns’ new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner traveled to Arizona this week on a search for a strong, dynamic leader, and they got their man.
University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly is close to striking a deal to become the 14th full-time head coach of the Browns, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Friday.
The Browns will not comment on candidates or interviews until they officially hire coach Pat Shurmur’s successor. They fired Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert on Monday after finishing 2012 with a record of 5-11, the franchise’s 12th losing season since its expansion era began in 1999.
According to NFL.com, Haslam and Banner began interviewing Kelly at about 2 p.m. on Friday, less than 24 hours after he guided Oregon to a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. In his postgame news conference, Kelly said he was eager to get through the interview process and make a decision. He would become the Browns’ sixth full-time head coach since their rebirth.
“I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I’m going to be,” said Kelly, who’s known for his mastery of Oregon’s spread offense.
By Friday evening, all signs pointed to Northeast Ohio.
Kelly was also scheduled to interview with the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills, but the Browns did everything in their power to win the derby. They also reportedly interviewed Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone, former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Penn State University coach Bill O’Brien. They interviewed Horton on Tuesday and thus complied with the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams with head-coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate.
Kelly, though, appeared to be the top target of Haslam and Banner. Securing him is certainly a victory in their eyes.
Haslam reached an agreement Aug. 2 to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion and is aiming to put his stamp on the organization. Banner served as president of the Eagles for the past 12 years and competed with some familiar faces, including owner and childhood friend Jeffrey Lurie and General Manager Howie Roseman, in a quest to find a new coach. The Browns’ previous regime of former President Mike Holmgren, Shurmur and Heckert fell short in the bidding last year to trade for the right to draft Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Haslam and Banner, though, were not denied. The Browns’ bigwigs said they would hire a head coach first and then a personnel executive who complements him.