PHOENIX, Ariz. - On the 10th anniversary of their last playoff appearance, the Browns may be in unexpected fight over Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Cleveland has been awaiting a second meeting with Kelly, the Ducks' offensive mastermind, on Saturday to hopefully complete a deal to make him the Browns' sixth fulltime coach since 1999. However, Kelly decided to keep a scheduled interview with the Philadelphia Eagles that carried into the night, delaying the Browns' second chance at signing college football's hottest coach.
Kelly and his representatives met with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner for a reported seven hours in Arizona on Friday. They came close to reaching an agreement, but the sides parted company without a deal but with signs pointing toward Kelly leaning toward joining the Browns, who fired Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert following a 5-11.
Kelly also met with the Buffalo Bills on Friday, and he decided to keep an appointment with the Eagles, who weren't going to pursue the 49-year-old after they learned a deal between Kelly and Cleveland was near. It's possible Kelly and his agent, David Dunn, are meeting with the other teams to gain leverage with the Browns and sweeten the coach's contract.
But there's also a chance Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman are making a hard push at Kelly to steal him away from the Browns. Banner spent 19 seasons with Philadelphia, the last 12 as president, but left the club last year and has had a falling out with Lurie, a longtime friend.
Kelly nearly jumped to the pros last year with Tampa Bay but decided at the last minute to return to Oregon, where he has been coach since 2009.
NFL.com reported that the Browns met with Syracuse's Doug Marrone for a second time on Saturday as the Eagles talked to Kelly. The report said the Browns are trying to decide if they prefer Kelly or Marrone.
It's still possible the Browns will get Kelly, but it may have been harder than they thought 24 hours ago.
Haslam and Banner plan to hire a coach before they seek a general manager to pair with him. The Browns have also promised that their next coach will have final say and control over the club's 53-man roster, perks that will likely limit their talent pool when looking for a GM or pro personnel director.
Kelly went 46-7 in four years at Oregon, where his high-tempo, warp-speed offense averaged nearly 50 points per game this season. He has no pro coaching experience, but some of his offensive principles are being used by New England and Washington. Patriots coach Bill Belichick met with Kelly in the offseason and has adopted a few of the Ducks' offensive wrinkles into his schemes this season.
Following Oregon's win over Kansas State in Thursday night's Fiesta Bowl, Kelly said he hoped to have the interview process "wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be."
All indications are that he's headed to Cleveland, where he'll inherit a young roster that showed some promise this season.
Haslam and Banner have been in Arizona all week. They camped out there early to get first crack at Kelly and conducted at least four other known interviews before meeting with him.
Cleveland has also spoken with former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Marrone and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who removed himself from consideration Thursday and said he would return for his second season with the Nittany Lions.
The Browns are not commenting on any candidates or interviews until they hire a successor for Pat Shurmur, who was fired after going 9-23 in two seasons.
Haslam and Banner believe Kelly can fix Cleveland's franchise, which has made just one playoff appearance in 14 years. Saturday was the 10th anniversary of the Browns' last postseason game, a 36-33 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the decade since, the Browns have had nine double-digit loss seasons and changed coaches four times.
Cleveland's current run of at least 11 losses in five straight seasons is the second-longest streak of futility in NFL history. Only the Oakland Raiders (2003-2009) have had one longer.
If Kelly turns the Browns down, they would still have several quality candidates to choose from. But not landing Kelly would be a major disappointment for Haslam and Banner in their initial search.