Oregon coach Chip Kelly answered questions Wednesday at the final news conference before his Ducks take on Kansas State tonight in the Fiesta Bowl.
Much of the focus was on a possible departure to the NFL.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are reportedly in Arizona and expected to meet with Kelly on Friday or over the weekend. Kelly is also reportedly the top target of the Eagles, who fired longtime coach Andy Reid on Monday.
The desert showdown is set to heat up between Banner and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, his childhood friend and former boss.
“We go into this extremely confident that we can go after the top people available, at least the top people in our opinion, and that we have a very good chance of being successful in convincing them that this is the right situation,” Banner said Monday after firing Pat Shurmur.
Seven teams have openings for a coach, and USA Today reported the Bills are also scheduled to interview Kelly. The Browns’ policy is to not confirm or comment on interviews.
Kelly, who almost took the Tampa Bay job last season, was asked if he expected to hear offers in the next week.
“I don’t expect anything,” he said. “I said this a million times. I’m never surprised by anything. I do not know what the future holds.
“I do know we have a football game tomorrow night and I’m going to be there.”
Kelly, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien are the most popular candidates from the college ranks, and all interest the Browns. But Kelly might be the only one who chooses to make the jump to the NFL.
He’s also the only one without an NFL background. His innovative, high-speed offense has captured the imagination of NFL executives, but it’s unproven at the game’s top level.
“Anything you do has to be personnel-driven,” Kelly said Wednesday. “You’ve gotta be able to adapt to the personnel that you have. There’s a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? I think the key is being sure what you’re doing is giving your players the chance to be successful.”
Some of Kelly’s spread-offense philosophies have been adapted by NFL coaches, including New England’s Bill Belichick. But Kelly concentrates on the run, while the NFL has become a pass-first league.
“I don’t think anybody knows any answers, until someone does it,” Kelly said when asked if his offense would work in the NFL. “I think the Washington Redskins are doing a pretty good job — I forgot the name of their quarterback (Robert Griffin III) — but he’s done a decent job, and the kid at Carolina (Cam Newton) has done a pretty good job.”
Griffin and Newton are exceptional runners, but they’ve also shown they can be effective throwing the ball.
“It depends. I don’t know. I’ve never coached in that league,” Kelly continued. “I’ve visited practices and talked to people about it, but the one thing about that, the one thing about everything is, you’ve got to have good players.
“I think sometimes the coaching aspect is way overrated. We don’t play the game. College football is a personnel-driven game, the National Football League is a personnel-driven game. Your job as a coach, very simply, is to put your players in position where they can make plays, then get out of the way so they can go make ‘em.”
In 2012, the Browns (Brandon Weeden) and Eagles (Nick Foles) played big-armed rookie quarterbacks who aren’t threats to run. Kelly would have to alter his offense or bring in a more mobile quarterback.
Banner was asked about the viability of the college spread offense in the pros.
“The game evolves and there is always some stealing from college into the pros and some stealing going in the other direction,” he said Monday. “You probably can’t just take a pure NFL system and put it in college and have it work and you probably can’t just take a purely clean current college system and put it in the pros and have it work. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that the right coach could integrate from both systems that could work very well at this level.”
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported Kelly wouldn’t require total control of the football operations as previously assumed.
Banner said Cleveland’s preferred organizational structure would give the coach final say over the regular-season roster and greater influence than the head of the personnel department. But the coach will report to Banner, as opposed to directly to the owner as in Philadelphia.
The Browns’ plan is to hire a coach first, and Banner acknowledged giving the coach more power would limit the pool of general manager/director of player personnel candidates.
“If we end up with a coach that we thought was extremely strong in player personnel, he’ll have a larger role, potentially even to the point of final say,” Banner said. “If we think the coach is going to be more effective, if he’s really, really focused on just coaching the team and participating in player personnel, then we’d probably look for somebody even stronger on the player personnel side to complement him. That’s why we think the skill set of the coach should drive the eventual structure.”
Michael Lombardi likely wouldn’t be scared away. The NFL Network analyst and former Browns personnel executive (1987-95) continues to be mentioned as a strong candidate to fill the director of player personnel role with the Browns. He worked with Banner in Philadelphia in 1997-98 and hasn’t been in a front office since 2007.
Lombardi told 92.3-FM on Wednesday he hasn’t heard from the Browns but would listen if they called. He said it would have to be the right fit with any team for him to leave NFL Network.
“A lot of it’s to be predicated on who they pick as a coach before you can determine your level of interest, if in fact you do have interest,” Lombardi said. “That’s part of the equation that makes it so attractive. At this point, where I am in my career, I think that’s really essential.”
Haslam and Banner aren’t just kicking back in Arizona waiting for Kelly to become available. They interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton on Tuesday, and he described the interview as “fantastic.”
Horton is black and fulfills the Rooney Rule requirement. He also interviewed with Arizona and had a meeting set with Buffalo and believes the interest is genuine.
“Oh, no question, no question,” he told the Arizona Republic. “I think my background and the way the players have performed for me speaks for itself. I’ve been to five Super Bowls and been on No. 1 defenses and guys out here responded to me very well. So if you’re asking me do I think I’m going to be a head coach this year, I’ll say yes.
“I think the rule gives you an opportunity to expose yourself to somebody. Like I said, change is good and it exposes you to different ideas, which you are able to express to people.”
One candidate was crossed off Cleveland’s list, as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter signed an extension with the Falcons. The Browns reportedly were scheduled to interview him this week during Atlanta’s bye in the playoffs.