Browns to focus on hiring coach first

BEREA — Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner left folks reading tea leaves and palms regarding the new coach coach and general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

The pair running the team offered no specifics.

But there were enough generalities to make some very educated guesses.

And at times it seemed that Haslam and Banner were laying the yellow-brick road for Nick Saban. At the least they’ve put the sand in the ground and have the mold ready.

The pair made it clear following the firing of Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert that their priority is to hire a head coach first, and the GM-slash-player-personnel type would follow.

The Browns new management team even went so far as to say the coach would have final say over personnel, provided he wanted that responsibility and had expertise doing so.

Which puts Saban’s name in neon.

The Alabama coach and former Browns defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick will try to win consecutive national titles in a week when his Alabama team plays Notre Dame. Saban loves Alabama, but he would never consider an NFL job without control of the roster and most things related to football, which makes a less influential GM a fit.

Browns running back Trent Richardson said he didn’t think his former coach would leave the Crimson Tide — where he does have everything he might possibly want aside from the Vince Lombardi Trophy — but that doesn’t mean the Browns can’t try. They didn’t say they would of course, but the job descriptions of the coach and GM sure added up to a guy like Saban.

Or Jon Gruden.

Or Bill Cowher.

The old saying about the duck comes to mind.

Chip Kelly? The Oregon coach might need a stronger GM, which may be why the Browns also said they could tailor their organization to fit the “skill set” of the coach they hire.

“Our focus right now, and I want to say this over and over, is to get the right head coach,” Haslam said. “If we do that, the other will fall into place.”

Haslam said he has not prioritized candidates and does not have a top choice — which is a bit of a surprise. But Banner said “the skill set of the coach should drive the eventual structure.”

Which does leave the door open for a coach who might not want say over personnel, a coordinator type like a Bruce Arians, who spent a good part of the 2012 season as interim coach of the Colts.

Arians’ connection to the Browns? He was Peyton Manning’s first quarterback coach, and Manning likes him a lot. Manning and Haslam’s families are close from their association with Manning’s alma mater, Tennessee.

Other names in the public domain include Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter (who reportedly will interview), and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, a branch of the Belichick tree. It will not mean Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has let it be known he will stay with New England and not interview for a head coaching job.

Banner said he believed both Browns jobs fall under Rooney Rule requirements, meaning the team has to interview a minority candidate for both.

But as Haslam said, there’s only two people who know the potential names and those two were sitting at a podium not revealing anything.

Banner did admit that prioritizing the head coach could limit the GM possibilities — think Eric Mangini hiring George Kokinis — but he also said the reverse could be true as well, that a strong GM with control over personnel might eliminate a strong-minded coach.

The pair had to decide which was more important, and they determined it was the coach who would have the most impact on the future.

Haslam discounted the concern that a bigger name would be an easier sell to the fans.

“We want somebody that’s going to win,” Haslam said. “And if we win he’ll be embraced.”

True that.

Haslam and Banner said they understand there has been a carousel running in Cleveland, but stressed they want these hires to bring the stability that has been lacking.

“We are very sensitive,” Haslam said, “to getting this right.”

Haslam didn’t dwell much on the reasons for change, other than to say he and Banner “felt it was necessary to get to a championship level.” They both said they believe there is a good foundation of young players, and that the team is in good shape under the NFL salary cap.

“Both of them (Heckert and Shurmur) are ready to move on,” Haslam said, “and candidly we’re ready to move on.”

They also know that by firing a GM and coach that they now own whatever happens with the team.

“We smiled at ourselves (Sunday) night and said, ‘Now we got got to go to work,'” Haslam said, “‘and get this right.'”

That’s a statement fans have heard before, many times since 1999.

The only differences are the people making the statements.

On that fact do the hopes of Browns fans lie.