November 23, 2014

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Column: Browns fans shouldn’t be scared of Chip Kelly’s lack of NFL experience

Paul Brown is long dead, Tony Dungy happily retired and Bill Belichick gainfully employed.

With my list of potential Browns coaches reduced by three, I’m reminded there aren’t any perfect coaches. Even the best in the business have lost big games and been deemed not good enough.

I mention this because the latest Cleveland coaching search is an anxious time for fans.

I understand the trepidation. Browns fans have plenty of scars. Many of them fresh.

But you can’t live, or cheer, scared.

No coaching candidate is without weakness. Cleveland had Belichick and tried to run him out of town because the genius was hidden behind arrogance and sourness.

If we focus on faults, we’ll be able to find them in all the top candidates — let alone the under-the-radar ones CEO Joe Banner may have up his sleeve.

Oregon’s Chip Kelly dominated the discussion this week, and that was before he added a final line to his resume Thursday night against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. He reportedly will meet with the Bills today, and the Browns today or over the weekend.

The worry with Kelly, 49, is easy to identify. He’s never been in the NFL. Not as a player, an assistant or a head coach.

That’s a legitimate concern. College coaches have an uneven history in the NFL, and plenty of them had spent time in the NFL in some capacity.

Not Kelly.

Before joining Oregon as offensive coordinator in 2007, his top stop was as offensive coordinator of New Hampshire, where he went to school and spent 14 years as an assistant.

The unknown with Kelly is real. He’s never experienced an NFL Draft, never coached a multimillionaire, never been limited to a 46-man roster on gameday, never matched wits on a weekly basis with the sport’s brightest defensive minds.

So whichever team convinces him to leave Eugene for the pressures of the NFL must be confident those issues won’t be his downfall. That the good outweighs the bad.

Browns fans should try that approach. Dwell on the positive. Like Kelly being the first coach to reach a BCS game in each of his first four seasons.

Each candidate is flawed. None is a slam dunk.

Remember Butch Davis. His resume included time as a Super Bowl-winning assistant and as a big-time college coach. He was the best of both worlds.

He flamed out after four years.

Even the biggest name on the market this year, Andy Reid, isn’t a guarantee of success. He didn’t win a Super Bowl in 14 years with the Eagles and went 12-20 the last two seasons.

Reid is a great place to look for insight into Banner, who’s been charged by owner Jimmy Haslam with running his organization and leading the coaching search.

Reid was an unknown commodity in 1999, but Banner identified him as a viable choice and the Eagles picked Reid over Jim Haslett. Banner remains extremely proud of finding Reid.

Several other teams were looking for coaches, but the Eagles were the only one to interview Reid, who had never been a coordinator or head coach. Banner wasn’t scared away by a less-than-ideal resume and won’t be deterred this time.

If he and Haslam believe Kelly fits their criteria – the most important of which is strong leadership – they will apply the full-court press.

They are correct when they insist the right hire can come from a variety of backgrounds. The essential piece is identifying the person that can lead a team and an organization to the desired goal, through easy and difficult times.

Scheme and experience aren’t nearly as important as vision and character.

So if you were frightened Thursday night by the frenetic pace, the flashy uniforms, the trick plays or the lack of NFL experience from Kelly and his Ducks … relax.

The perfect resume doesn’t mean the coach is perfect. What’s inside the man is what counts.

And you can’t hire scared.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.