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Will Browns go to college for head coach?


We now know why Chip Kelly was at, or at least near, the top of the list in the Browns' last coaching search.

Kelly has done a remarkable job of implementing his innovative offensive ideas and progressive football-training concepts with the Philadelphia Eagles, leading them to an NFC East championship and a wild-card playoff game against New Orleans.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner could envision Kelly bringing that innovative, out-the-box approach that allowed him to be so successful as a coach at Oregon to Cleveland.

Instead, they wound up settling for Rob Chudzinski, a candidate who was lower on the list and who had been an NFL offensive coordinator. Although the Browns' offense performed remarkably well despite a revolving door at quarterback, it's fair to say that Haslam and Banner never saw the creativity they were craving during the previous coach search.

They never got anything close to approaching the splash factor they wanted on the way to a 4-12 finish.

This time around, the Browns, despite interviewing or planning to interview three NFL assistants (Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) appear to be going back to the original blueprint they followed in last year's search.

If media reports are accurate, they also have interest in at least three candidates from the college ranks: Gus Malzahn (Auburn), James Franklin (Vanderbilt), and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma).

From that group, Malzahn, whose team faces Florida State Monday night for the BCS national championship, is viewed as someone with the most progressive ideas on offense. Like Kelly, he believes in running a faster-paced attack.

Eleven years ago, Malzahn published a book and produced an instructional video entitled "Hurry Up No Huddle – An Offensive Philosophy." Some of his strategies have been utilized by other college teams, as well as NFL clubs.

The motto of the Browns' administration is "don't be afraid to be bold" in everything it does, on and off the field. Trading running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick of the 2012 draft, two games into his second season was a classic example of that. So was firing Chudzinski only 11 months after hiring him.

Picking a college coach who has not been a head coach in the NFL would be seen as arguably the boldest move of all, especially in the wake of the controversy stemming from the quick hook the Browns gave Chudzinski.

Before Kelly initially expressed enough doubts about leaving Oregon to prompt Haslam and Banner to move elsewhere with their search, the Browns were determined to become the team that drew the sort of positive attention the Eagles received for Kelly's creativity and ability to guide them to a division crown.

There is reason to believe they are still looking for this year's version of Kelly. Is it Malzahn? Perhaps. Is it another coach from the college ranks? Maybe.

Could that candidate be found from the NFL? It's possible. One assistant widely viewed as being a bright, unconventional thinker is 35-year-old Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who has declined to be interviewed until after his team plays its final game of the postseason.

Hiring a college coach who has never been an NFL head coach can be risky, even with some of the more prominent names in the business. It didn't work when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Greg Schiano -- whom they recently fired -- from Rutgers. It didn't work when the Washington Redskins hired Steve Spurrier from Florida. Nor did it work when the Miami Dolphins hired Nick Saban from LSU. Nor did it work when the Browns hired Butch Davis from the University of Miami.

However, only two years after leaving Stanford, Jim Harbaugh guided the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.

There is something to be said for the fresh-minded style that someone like Kelly offers.

The question is, can the Browns find it in their second coaching search in as many years?

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