July 26, 2014

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Browns reportedly close to deal with Oregon’s Chip Kelly, but nothing final yet

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner laid their cards on the table and pushed their money into the middle. They went all in for University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

They were left waiting to find out if they’ll get the grand prize.

The Browns and Kelly met for seven hours Friday in Arizona but parted without a deal, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

Kelly then interviewed with the Bills and is scheduled to meet with the Eagles today. Mortensen said the Browns remained the favorite to land him.

Mortensen cited sources who described the discussions between the Browns and Kelly, 49, as “very positive” and added the sides agreed to talk again tonight when he’s done with the other interviews.

There’s no agreement in place, but the sides see no “significant obstacles” that would prevent a deal if they choose to pursue one.

Kelly informed Haslam and Banner that he wanted to “go through the process” by meeting with the Bills and Eagles. Last year he interviewed only with the Buccaneers before turning them down.

Haslam and Banner began interviewing Kelly on Friday at 2 p.m. and news broke four hours later that a deal was close. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport was the first to report it, and The Associated Press later reported the sides were nearing a deal.

The Twitter world and Browns Town were abuzz at the thought of the offensive genius joining the Browns. The excitement turned to worry at 11 p.m. when the lack of a deal was reported.

The Browns refused comment all night, because their policy is to not confirm or discuss interviews.

Haslam and Banner targeted Kelly long before they fired coach Pat Shurmur on Monday. Banner has a good relationship with Kelly’s agent, David Dunn, and they had discussions while Kelly was preparing to coach Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night.

“I think any responsible person does succession planning and, candidly, we’ve been doing succession planning for the last two or three months,” Haslam said Monday.

Adam Caplan of XM Sirius Radio reported a high-ranking NFL source called the Browns’ interest in Kelly “more than an infatuation” and their interest hasn’t waned one bit. Hiring Kelly would be a significant moment in Haslam’s new ownership.

He chose Banner as his CEO and empowered him to conduct the coaching search. Banner kept his options open by interviewing four others this week, but focused on Kelly. He liked the way he built and ran the Oregon program in his four seasons and the innovation he showed on offense.

The Ducks have gone 46-7 in Kelly’s four years as head coach and beat Kansas State 35-17 on Thursday. He was hired at Oregon as offensive coordinator in 2007 after 14 years as an assistant at the University of New Hampshire, his alma mater.

The Ducks went 12-1 this season, averaging 49.6 points and 537.4 yards per game. For comparison’s sake, the Browns went 5-11 and averaged 18.9 and 314.2.

Haslam and Banner aren’t scared away by Kelly’s lack of NFL experience — he has never played or coached at the professional level. But Kelly has advised New England’s Bill Belichick, who adopted some of the principles of the fast-paced, high-powered offense, including one-word play calls at the line of scrimmage to further increase the tempo.

“Chip Kelly will bring a positive attitude to the Browns,” tweeted former Colts coach Tony Dungy, whose son plays at Oregon. “He’s a great coach and his style will translate to the NFL.”

The next vacancy to fill would be the head of the personnel department, who will carry the title of general manager or director of player personnel. The favorite is Michael Lombardi of NFL Network.

He worked with Banner in Philadelphia after working for the Browns from 1987-95. He hasn’t worked in an NFL front office since 2007 with the Raiders.

The Browns reportedly asked for permission to interview 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble. He’s among the NFL’s most sought-after GM candidates and may not be willing to come for less than final say over personnel decisions, which Banner doesn’t seem willing to give up.

If it’s Lombardi, Caplan said he’s been preparing for the job.

“Source said he has been working on free agency targets for the Browns,” Caplan tweeted.

Lombardi would direct the personnel department and evaluate talent, while working with the coach and Banner on major decisions such as trades, free agency and the draft.

Kelly almost accepted the Tampa Bay job after the 2011 season but returned to Oregon. He would be leaving now with the program under NCAA investigation.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said Kelly’s buyout was upward of $3 million and there are five years left on his contract.

Kelly was asked after the Fiesta Bowl about the pros and cons of heading to the NFL.

“It’s more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn’t fit,” Kelly said of interviews. “I don’t really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that’s what this deal is all about for me. I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I’m going to be.”

One of the first questions facing Kelly would be what he plans to do at quarterback. The Browns have Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis under contract for 2013, but none is guaranteed to return.

Kelly’s quarterbacks at Oregon have been able to run with the ball — a necessity to execute the zone-read option — but he said this week a coach must adapt to his personnel. Weeden isn’t a threat to run but excelled throwing out of the spread at Oklahoma State and tweeted Friday he was joking when he said Monday he couldn’t run the zone-read offense.

Taylor fined

Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor was fined $7,875 for unnecessary roughness Sunday in the season finale against the Steelers.

A league spokesman said Taylor was fined because he struck the opponent away from the play on a run.

Taylor’s forearm knocked Steelers lineman Kelvin Beachum out of the game with a concussion.
After the game, Taylor said he didn’t do anything wrong.

“It’s between the whistles,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel.”

What about a fine from the league?

“I don’t care,” he said. “If I get a call, I get a call. I got it.”

No other fines were issued, despite Steelers offensive lineman Doug Legursky angering the Browns with a late dive at linebacker Craig Robertson’s legs.

• Former Browns general manager Tom Heckert, who was fired Monday, canceled his interview with the Jets scheduled for today, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post.

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