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January 05. 2013 8:25PM

Reports say Browns, Kelly nearing an agreement


Oregon linebacker Michael Clay (46) holds the Fiesta Bowl trophy football as Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) look on at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Thursday. (Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCT)

The Cleveland Browns' new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner traveled to Arizona this week on a search for a strong, dynamic leader, and they appear to have gotten their man.

University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly is close to striking a deal to become the 14th full-time head coach of the Browns, the NFL Network reported.

Kelly, 49, met with the Browns for seven hours on Friday, but walked away from owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner without a deal, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Kelly told them he wanted to proceed with his previously scheduled meetings with the Bills and Eagles. The Browns are still believed to be the frontrunners for Kelly's services.

Kelly met with the Bills Friday night and was reportedly set to meet with the Eagles Saturday. The Browns were scheduled to meet with him sometime around dinnertime.

Mortensen said Saturday that one issue for Kelly with the Browns is their uncertain quarterback situation. The Browns have Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Thad Lewis all under contract, but Kelly apparently doesn't see his man in the bunch.

"If he becomes their coach, one consensus has been reached,'' Mortensen said. "The Browns don't have their quarterback of the future on the roster.''

If that's true, the Browns will look for a starter in the draft, free agency or through a trade.

If the Browns don't have the deal finalized tonight, they'll certainly try to get it wrapped up by today, the source told The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Kelly informed Haslam and Banner that he wanted to "go through the process" by meeting with the Bills and Eagles, something he regretted not doing last hiring season when he only interviewed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to a source close to the Oregon coach.

Haslam and Banner did not object to Kelly's wishes to meet with those teams.

According to league sources, the Eagles were flying from Philadelphia to Arizona on Saturday morning to interview Kelly. Sources said Kelly gave the Eagles his word he would meet with them.

Kelly, a New Hampshire native with 23 seasons of college coaching experience, will likely be paid a small fortune for his leap into the NFL. Last week, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton agreed to a five-year contract extension that is expected to pay him more than $8 million annually, ESPN reported. Kelly signed a six-year, $20.5 million contract extension with Oregon in September 2010 and made $3.5 million in guaranteed salary in 2012.

Kelly, 49, has never coached in the NFL. However, his innovative, high-powered spread offense has drawn the attention and respect of some of the league's top coaches. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl champion, told the Boston Globe in October that he asked Kelly for advice on how to streamline play calling and ensure his players were on the same page while employing a fast-paced system.

"I was interested to hear how he did it," Belichick said. "I would say he expanded it to a different level and it was very interesting to understand what he was doing. Certainly I've learned a lot from talking to Chip about his experiences with it and how he does it and his procedure and all that."

The Patriots, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers are among the teams that have adopted concepts associated with Kelly's system. In four seasons as Oregon's head coach, Kelly led the Ducks to a record of 46-7 and four consecutive Bowl Championship Series games.

Some are skeptical Kelly can succeed at the highest level of football. Others predicted he would make the transition because Oregon faces potential NCAA sanctions stemming from a recruiting scandal.

Regardless, the Browns are counting on Kelly to lead them into an elusive era of success. If Haslam and Banner are right about him, he will deliver.


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