By Tom Withers Associated Press
CLEVELAND — Chip Kelly is closer to taking his fast-paced offense to the NFL.
A person familiar with the negotiations said the Cleveland Browns are nearing a deal with Oregon’s offensive mastermind to be their next coach.
The Browns interviewed Kelly on Friday and the Ducks’ coach also met with the Buffalo Bills in Arizona. Kelly has a scheduled interview with Philadelphia on Saturday. However, a person familiar with the interview said the Eagles are “heading in another direction” because Kelly is nearing a deal with Cleveland.
That person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team isn’t discussing its negotiations publicly, said the Eagles planned to interview several other candidates regardless of any conversations with Kelly. The Eagles were granted permission Friday to interview Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and plan to meet Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Sunday.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported late Friday night that the Browns and Kelly met for seven hours — five in negotiations with a two-hour break for dinner — and agreed to talk again Saturday night. Mortensen said Kelly said still intends to meet with the Eagles some time on Saturday. The Browns are “favored,” Mortensen reported.
The Bills confirmed in an email they met with Kelly, but gave no indication of how long they spoke to him. The team also interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone.
The Browns, who made their last playoff appearance 10 years ago on Saturday, have declined to comment on any interviews during their coaching search.
Following Oregon’s win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night, the 49-year-old Kelly said he wanted to get the interview process over “quickly.”
He came close to jumping to the pros last year but turned down an offer from Tampa Bay to return for his fourth season as head coach at Oregon, where he is 46-7. He has boosted the school’s national profile — flashy uniforms helped — with a high-powered offense capable of turning any game into a track meet.
“It’s more a fact-finding mission, finding out if it fits or doesn’t fit,” Kelly said after the Ducks beat No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. “I’ve been in one interview in my life for the National Football League, and that was a year ago. I don’t really have any preconceived notions about it. I think that’s what this deal is all about for me. It’s not going to affect us in terms of we’re not on the road (recruiting). I’ll get an opportunity if people do call, see where they are.
“I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I’m going to be.”
Kelly has been at or near the top of the Browns’ list of candidates since the team fired Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 in two seasons. Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have been conducting interviews in Arizona all week, searching for the team’s sixth full-time coach since 1999.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton confirmed he interviewed with Cleveland earlier this week. The Browns have reportedly met with former Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, Marrone and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, who removed himself from any consideration on Thursday night and intends to stay at the school.
The Browns might have been interested in Alabama’s Nick Saban, but the 61-year-old doesn’t seem to have any interest in returning to the NFL after two seasons with Miami.
Kelly doesn’t have any pro coaching experience, but aspects of his up-tempo offense are already being used by some NFL teams, including New England and Washington.
Kelly wouldn’t say if he was leaning one way or another following the Ducks’ bowl win.
“I said I’ll always listen, and that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “I know that people want to talk to me because of our players. The success of our football program has always been about our guys. It’s an honor for someone to say they’d want to talk to me about maybe moving on to go coach in the National Football League. But it’s because of what those guys do. I’ll listen, and we’ll see.”
Oregon could be facing possible NCAA sanctions for the school’s use of recruiting services, but Kelly indicated he isn’t running from anything.
“We’ve cooperated fully with them,” he said. “If they want to talk to us again, we’ll continue to cooperate fully. I feel confident in the situation.”
Oregon’s players gave Kelly a Gatorade bath as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Thursday night’s game, and afterward a few of the Ducks seemed resigned to their coach moving on.
“We’ll have to see,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Whatever he decides to do, we’re all behind him. He’s an unbelievable coach. He’s not only a football coach, but he’s someone that you can look to and learn a lot of life lessons from. Whatever happens, happens. But we’re all behind him.
“We’ll see where it takes us.”