Browns still trying secure Oregon’s Chip Kelly as their next head coach

Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner spent Saturday night wining and dining Chip Kelly in Arizona as they tried to seal a deal to make him the 14th full-time head coach of the Browns.

Although no agreement was in place by press time, the Browns were still considered the favorites to lure Kelly away from the University of Oregon, where he has used an innovative spread offense to compile a record of 46-7 in the past four seasons, NFL Network and ESPN reported Saturday.

Lawyers were scheduled to attend the Browns’ dinner with Kelly, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported, a sign Haslam and Banner intended to work on a contract. The Browns will not comment on candidates or interviews until their search officially ends.

Haslam and Banner reportedly met with Kelly, 49, for about seven hours Friday before he interviewed with the Buffalo Bills later that night. The Philadelphia Eagles interviewed Kelly on Saturday before he started his second round with the Browns, Rapoport reported.

The Browns and Kelly were close to a deal Friday, Rapoport reported. Still, Kelly informed Haslam and Banner he wanted to go through the process by meeting with the Bills and Eagles, and they didn’t object to his wishes.

If the Browns can finalize a deal with Kelly, he would become their sixth full-time head coach since 1999. The Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert on Monday after finishing 2012 with a record of 5-11, their 12th losing season since their rebirth and their fifth in a row.

The Browns also reportedly interviewed Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone, former Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Penn State University coach Bill O’Brien. Horton told Arizona reporters he met with the Browns on Tuesday. As a result, they complied with the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams with head-coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate.

Despite four other known interviews, Kelly has been the Browns’ primary target. They staked out in Arizona so they could talk to him after he guided Oregon to a 35-17 win over Kansas State on Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

With the Browns hot on Kelly’s heels, questions about whether his no-huddle, up-tempo, zone-read, spread attack would work in the NFL are at the forefront. He would likely need to strike a balance between using concepts from Oregon’s system and adjusting to the professional level. analyst Gil Brandt, a former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, believes Kelly can do just that.

“I’ve got the utmost respect for him,” Brandt said Saturday in a phone interview. “He is prepared for an NFL job. I think that Chip Kelly can run (any offense) and be successful. He has done things with Oregon, and Oregon has no big talent. They haven’t had the USC or Miami types where they’ve got five or six or seven guys picked in the first round. So I think he has taken players that are not rated that high by people and puts them in the best positions.”

Many view Kelly’s expected leap into the NFL as a high-risk, high-reward endeavor. He has no experience in the league, though elite coaches, including the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, consider him a brilliant offensive innovator and have sought his advice about running a fast-paced offense.

Brandt acknowledged the gamble associated with Kelly. But he believes Banner, who spent the past 12 years as the president of the Eagles, could facilitate a successful transition.

“It’s very hard for a college coach to come into the National Football League that hasn’t had some type of experience in the National Football League,” Brandt said. “Even if a guy comes in that’s been an assistant coach in the National Football League, it’s still hard. Now with that said, whoever comes in there has Joe Banner working with him.

“I don’t have any questions about Joe Banner. When he came into this league, I don’t know if he knew as much as the housewife that lives next door to you about the National Football League, but he has a feel for players and how good they are. The man is very smart, and he works at it. Forget about the salary cap and forget about contracts. He’s very knowledgeable (about other things), and time will prove that.”

If the Browns secure Kelly, he, Banner and whoever is eventually hired as the organization’s personnel chief will need to make many important decisions. Perhaps none would be more important than what to do at quarterback.

The Browns have Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis under contract for next season, but none of them would be considered the team’s quarterback of the future if Kelly becomes the coach, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported. If that’s the case, the Browns would likely embark on a quarterback search in the offseason via the draft, free agency or a trade. They have the sixth overall pick but no second-round selection because Heckert spent it July 12 to take wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft.

Regardless of the obstacles Kelly would face, Browns strong safety T.J. Ward is convinced he could get the job done in the NFL. Ward played at Oregon during Kelly’s first two seasons as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator (2007-08) and his first year as their head coach (2009). Kelly has turned the Ducks into a national power, leading them to four consecutive BCS games.

“He’s a great motivator,” Ward said last week. “He comes in and he knows what he wants to do, and he gets his players to play for him and play hard. He has a great scheme, great system. He’s a high-energy coach.”

“He’s in your face and he wants to get the best out of you, and you know that and he comes from that angle. He only wants the best for you. He’s not a guy who screams for no reason.”

Ward believes NFL players would respect Kelly and respond well to him because he’s demanding but likable. The rest of the Browns will soon find out for themselves if Haslam and Banner can get Kelly’s signature.