The Browns figured they could close a deal with Chip Kelly over dinner.
That was before the Eagles took Oregon’s coach to a lengthy lunch.
Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner spent much of Saturday waiting for a second meeting with Kelly, the Ducks’ offensive mastermind, to hopefully finalize an agreement to make him the Browns’ sixth full-time coach since 1999.
However, Kelly decided to keep a scheduled interview with Philadelphia that lasted longer than expected and carried into the night, delaying the Browns’ second chance at signing college football’s hottest coach.
Kelly and his representatives had met Haslam and Banner for a reported seven hours in Arizona on Friday. They came close to reaching a deal, but the sides parted company without a financial agreement with signs pointing toward Kelly leaning toward joining the Browns.
Kelly also met with the Buffalo Bills on Friday, and he decided to keep his appointment with the Eagles, who had briefly pulled their interest in pursuing 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 past 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.
As of 1 a.m. ET on Sunday, it was still unclear where Kelly wound wind up — Cleveland, Philadelphia or back at Oregon.
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 it would be 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.
Marrone could be a solid fall-back candidate for the Browns if Kelly rejects them.
The 48-year-old restored Syracuse’s program in his four seasons at the school, leading the Orange to a 25-25 record. After a slow start this season, Syracuse won six of its last seven games and defeated West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Before he was at Syracuse, Marrone spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator at New Orleans, where he helped Saints quarterback Drew Brees throw for more than 4,000 yards in three straight seasons.
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 consecutive seasons is the second-longest streak of futility in NFL history. Only the Oakland Raiders (2003-2009) have had one longer.