By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
A quick coaching search: I’ve been told by a solid source that the Browns want to introduce their new head coach in seven to 10 days. If that’s the case, the new man will not come from a team involved in the NFL playoffs. Here is how I evaluate the candidates linked to the Browns.
The top rung
1. Nick Saban: Close your eyes and imagine a coach taking the Browns to the Super Bowl. The image of Saban easily comes to mind. He possesses all the qualities Jimmy Haslam has listed as imperatives. He has achieved amazing success as a head coach in the NFL feeder league – college football’s Southeastern Conference. He never reached the Super Bowl during his six years in the NFL – four as Bill Belichick’s assistant in Cleveland and two as Miami head coach. This last point is a positive. At 61, Saban has achieved everything in his profession except reaching the Super Bowl. Unlike those on this list who have “been there, done that,” Saban would be especially driven not to fail in what probably would be his last coaching venture. I have three good sources who believe Saban won’t leave, but each admits Saban could change his mind. By the way, Saban would be the most difficult head coach for media because of his dictatorial restrictions.
2. Bill Cowher: I have always considered him the perfect Browns coach – played and coached here, dominated the Browns as Steelers coach, has a complete understanding of the AFC North and an unabashed appreciation of the Browns-Steelers rivalry, is tough and demanding and a fiery leader. The assumption that he would never take a job in the Steelers’ division out of respect to the Rooney family is myth, I contend. Still, he has turned down the Browns on at least two occasions, and several other clubs. He has gotten too comfortable as a CBS football studio analyst and evidently does not have the drive anymore at age 55. That is sad because he probably left a couple Super Bowl appearances on the table when he retired to TV land.
3. Jon Gruden: He has been unduly criticized for his ultra-positive spins as a “Monday Night Football” analyst. As a coach, he favored veteran-laden squads and was hard on his team and staff. But he won, possessing winning marks in regular season (95-81) and postseason (5-4). He has connections to Haslam (grad assistant at Tennessee) and Banner (Eagles coordinator in 1995-97. A Sandusky native who played quarterback at Dayton, he was a boyhood fan of the Browns and has a good knowledge of their history. Out of coaching four years, he is 49 and said to be ready to jump back in.
4. Chip Kelly: The more I read and learn about the Oregon coach, the more intriguing he sounds. Noted for his up-tempo spread option offense, his innovations actually support his passion for the running game. His proponents swear he would adapt his system to his talent and geography. He is 49 and has no NFL experience. But, over the years, NFL coaches have flocked to see him – Gruden, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, to name a few – and he has acquired an understanding of the league through them and other contacts. He would need a good personnel executive to navigate NFL waters. He is tough on quarterbacks, mentally and physically.
The next wave
5. Bruce Arians: Opportunity called in his 20th NFL season at the age of 60, and he answered. Boy, did he answer. Put out to pasture by the Steelers for being too close to QB Ben Roethlisberger, he was hired by the Colts to shepherd in the Andrew Luck era as coordinator. With the team at 1-3, head coach Chuck Pagano was stricken with leukemia. Arians was appointed as interim coach and guided the Colts to a 9-3 finish and an AFC wild-card berth. He has a track record developing Peyton Manning, Tim Couch and Roethlisberger through each’s formative NFL years. He was Butch Davis’ coordinator in 2002, the only year the Browns have made the playoffs in the expansion era.
6. Bill O’Brien: After five years as an offensive assistant under Belichick with New England, he took on the daunting task of rescuing Penn State from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. An 8-4 first season as head coach made him an instant hot prospect at age 43. Still, no Belichick assistant has succeeded as an NFL head coach. And how many offensive coaches has Tom Brady turned into geniuses?
7. Greg Roman: The former John Carroll University defensive lineman has paid his dues. In 15 NFL seasons, he has gone from quality control/defense to offensive coordinator of a Super Bowl contender. But only after joining Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2009 has his career elevated the level of NFL head coach candidate. Roman, 40, has developed an innovative yet physical running game in San Francisco. He has been Harbaugh’s offensive play-caller with a team that has gone 23-8-1 the past two years.
8. Ray Horton: The 52-year-old former NFL defensive back has proven himself in two seasons as Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator. But the reason teams, including the Browns, are racing to interview him is to abide by the Rooney Rule. Tell me which NFL owner is willing to hire a coordinator of a 5-11 team. Still, the exposure to the interview process will serve him well and that is why the Rooney Rule works.
9. Doug Marrone: After eight years as an offensive assistant with three NFL teams, he returned to his alma mater to become Syracuse’s head coach. In four years, his record is 25-25. Bottom line: Must have a great agent to be getting NFL head coach interviews.
10. Dirk Koetter: Really? As offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, it was his brainstorm not to give the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew near the goal line with a game against the Browns on the line. That accounted for one of the Browns’ four wins that season. He moved on to the Atlanta Falcons and has received kudos for somehow teaching Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez how to score points. C’mon, man. Try selling this coach to the Browns’ faithful.
The following coaches, who may or may not have not been linked to the Browns, are not candidates: Tony Dungy, Andy Reid, Ken Whisenhunt, Lovie Smith, Mike McCoy, Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer, Josh McDaniels andMike Holmgren. (OK, the last one was a joke.)