Last week was a whirlwind for owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner. They watched the season-ending loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday, fired general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur on Monday and spent the rest of the week in Arizona interviewing coaching candidates and hoping for Oregon’s Chip Kelly to pick the Browns.
Haslam and Banner left Arizona on Sunday without Kelly — he chose to stay at Oregon after once again dipping his toe in the NFL waters — and without a clear idea of who the next coach will be.
But there’s little time to regroup. Four other NFL teams have coaching vacancies, and the Browns also have an opening for general manager/director of player personnel to address after they find a coach.
So it’s time to reset the coaching search for what promises to be a busy second week of the offseason. Maybe this one will end with resolution.
The college try
Two of the best coaches in the country ended their seasons Monday night, as Alabama’s Nick Saban and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly squared off for the national championship in Miami.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Haslam plane was nearby.
Saban and the people around him have repeatedly said he won’t leave Alabama for a return to the NFL — even if he wins his third national championship in four years. But you can’t blame Haslam for asking.
He’s admired Saban’s domination in the rugged SEC and is well aware Saban has a history of changing his mind. He told reporters he wouldn’t leave the Dolphins for Alabama two weeks before he did.
Saban is an elite coach on any level, has NFL experience and would send a jolt through a fan base worn out from the unfulfilling Kelly pursuit. The only concern is Saban’s age, 61, but he’s in great shape, grinds with the best of them and could coach for another decade.
Kelly possibly leaving for the NFL hasn’t received the same buzz as Saban, but he can’t be ignored. He made the Irish relevant again, specializes in offense and is a guy that’s climbed the ladder rather quickly. He went from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan to Cincinnati to Notre Dame to national championship game within a decade.
The Browns are obviously interested in college coaches, which could be Haslam’s influence. His first allegiance was to the University of Tennessee. The Browns interviewed Chip Kelly, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone last week, and were genuinely interested in all three.
Brian Kelly didn’t rule out the NFL when asked over the weekend.
“How can you not be (intrigued)?” Kelly told CBSSports.com. “When you’ve coached football, you look at everything — you look at high school film and you watch coaches there, college, Division III to Division I, it doesn’t matter, college, NFL. All of that stuff intrigues me.
“I still think it comes down to time and place. What is the right time, and what is the right place? I never take any of that off the board.”
Marc Trestman rings a bell with any Browns fan old enough to remember Bernie Kosar in his prime — and not as a frequent guest on talk radio.
Trestman was a smart, young offensive coach for the Browns in 1988 and ’89. He also mentored Kosar at the University of Miami a few years earlier.
Trestman’s one year as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 1989 wasn’t a hit with fans, especially after the success Lindy Infante had in 1986 and ’87. But Cleveland fans never like the play caller.
Trestman’s career continued as a coordinator with the 49ers, Cardinals and Raiders, reaching a Super Bowl with Oakland in 2002. But he never got the chance to be a head coach in the NFL.
Instead, his shot came in the Canadian Football League, where he’s led the Montreal Alouettes to two Grey Cup titles and drawn comparisons to Bud Grant and Marv Levy. The Hall of Fame coaches excelled first in the CFL and then south of the border.
Trestman might not fit the profile of the traditional NFL head coach, but he’s intelligent, well-respected and good with quarterbacks. He tutors many prospects before the draft, including Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden, who gives a testimonial on Trestman’s website.
The Browns recently added Trestman to their interview list, according to multiple reports. And he was in Chicago to meet with the Bears on Monday.
Ken Whisenhunt (Arizona) and Lovie Smith (Chicago) went to the Super Bowl and made multiple playoff trips before being fired Dec. 31. They had worn out their welcome with their employers and fans, but their resumes look great compared to those of every Browns coach in the Super Bowl era.
Painful reminder: The Browns have never been to sports’ greatest spectacle.
The Browns interviewed Whisenhunt last week and Haslam was reportedly impressed. Whisenhunt played tight end in the NFL, was a longtime assistant with the Steelers and has been a head coach. He’s got the work experience to ease the mind of an owner who might be tentative following the failed Chip Kelly chase.
Whisenhunt also has experience reversing the fortunes of a franchise with no recent history of success. The Cardinals were among the NFL’s worst, but he took them to their first Super Bowl, losing to Pittsburgh in a classic.
It’s not known if the Browns have interviewed Smith or plan to, but they could do worse. He went 81-63 with Chicago with three playoff trips in nine years and never won fewer than seven games following a 5-11 debut. He reached the Super Bowl with mediocre quarterback Rex Grossman and almost made it back before Jay Cutler got hurt in the NFC championship game.
Smith doesn’t display his emotions on the sideline, but he’s beloved by his players and learned under Tony Dungy.
The final pool for the Browns to pick from generates the most candidates across the league every year — the coordinators. The highest level of NFL assistant coaches just waiting for their chance at the big job.
The list is long again this year.
Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Broncos OC Mike McCoy, 49ers OC Greg Roman, Redskins OC Kyle Shanahan, Bengals OC Jay Gruden, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Bengals DC Mike Zimmer are all considered ready to make the jump.
The Browns will reportedly interview Arians, who was released from a Baltimore hospital Monday following a brief illness. McCoy’s had success with quarterbacks Jake Delhomme, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning but might not be available until after the Super Bowl.
Shanahan impressed Browns fans by tailoring the game plan to suit backup quarterback Kirk Cousins in a December win in Cleveland.
The Browns don’t have their coach yet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find the right fit. There are still plenty of qualified candidates from all spectrums.
But there’s no rest for the weary.