The Browns are taking a second look at former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, who could rejoin Cleveland following a stint as an assistant 14 years ago.
Two people familiar with the meeting said Whisenhunt had a second interview with the Browns on Thursday.
Whisenhunt, recently fired after six seasons with the Cardinals, visited the Browns away from their headquarters in Berea, Ohio, said one person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the search.
The team met with Whisenhunt last week in Arizona, where Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are known to have conducted interviews with at least four other candidates. Whisenhunt went 45-51 in six regular seasons – he was 4-2 in the playoffs – and led the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance.
The Browns are expected to interview Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The Colts granted permission for the Browns to speak with Arians, who was released from the hospital on Wednesday after being treated for an inner ear infection that forced him to miss last week’s playoff loss in Baltimore.
Already during the second week of their search, the Browns have interviewed Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The team will not comment on any interview or candidates until they have an agreement with the 14th coach in team history.
The Plain Dealer was first to report Whisenhunt’s visit.
A second interview would seem to indicate a strong interest in Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end who worked as a special teams coach with Cleveland in 1999 – the Browns’ expansion rebirth. He’s the first candidate known to have a second interview with the Browns, who fired Pat Shurmur one day after completing a 5-11 season – their fifth straight with at least 11 losses.
The Cardinals also let Whisenhunt go on Black Monday, Dec. 31, cutting ties with the winningest coach in franchise history and the one who helped resurrected a sad-sack franchise.
Arizona started this season 4-0, but the Cardinals lost 11 of their last 12 and finished with the NFL’s lowest-ranked offense.
Included in that season-ending slide, Arizona was shut out 58-0 by Seattle. Afterward, Whisenhunt apologized ”to our fans and everyone associated with our organization. That was embarrassing.”
The Cardinals have only had three winning seasons in 28 years, and two came under Whisenhunt, who had one year left on a $5.5 million contract when he was fired.
Whisenhunt spent six seasons as an assistant in Pittsburgh, the final three as offensive coordinator under Bill Cowher before he was hired by the Cardinals.
He inherited a team given little chance to compete and turned them into a .500 squad in his first season. The next year, with Kurt Warner at quarterback, the Cardinals made an unexpected run to the Super Bowl, where they lost a 27-23 thriller to the Steelers.
Arizona won a franchise-record 10 games the next season and beat Green Bay 51-45 in an overtime playoff classic. But the Cardinals were routed the next week by New Orleans and Warner retired.
Warner’s departure began Whisenhunt’s slide in the desert. The Cardinals went 5-11 in 2010 and 8-8 in 2011.
As a former minority owner with Pittsburgh, Haslam is very familiar with Whisenhunt, who would come in with an understanding of the AFC North.
Last week in Arizona, the Browns interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien.
Kelly was once thought to be the top name on Cleveland’s list, but the club backed off because he seemed uncertain about jumping to the NFL. Marrone was hired by Buffalo and O’Brien, the Big Ten’s coach of the year, returned for a second year with the Nittany Lions.