Oregon’s Kelly looms as Eagles top coaching candidate

Add another collegiate name to the Eagles’ list of head coaching candidates.

Chip Kelly of Oregon is their top choice, according to NFL sources, with Bill O’Brien of Penn State on the radar. But the Eagles are also expected to target Doug Marrone of Syracuse, two league sources said Tuesday.

The Eagles have not commented on potential candidates other than to confirm that they have interviews set up with three Falcons assistants — defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

Marrone reportedly has interviews scheduled with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. He has solid credentials, having coached in both college and the NFL, and has been praised for turning the Syracuse program around despite the program’s second-tier talent.

The 48-year-old Marrone also has received credit for the development of quarterback Ryan Nassib, a former Malvern Prep star. Nassib is projected to be selected in the middle rounds of April’s draft.

The Orange went 8-5 this season and beat West Virginia, 38-14, in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday. Marrone has a 25-25 record in four seasons.

Before taking the Syracuse job, Marrone was the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator for three years under Sean Payton. With Drew Brees at quarterback, New Orleans finished first, fourth, and first in total offense from 2006 to ‘08, although Payton called the plays.

Marrone was the New York Jets’ offensive line coach from 2002 to ‘05. He worked at several colleges from 1992 to 2001. Marrone played college football at Syracuse and was briefly an offensive lineman with the Dolphins.

Jeffrey Lurie did not tip his hand Monday shortly after he fired Andy Reid. But the Eagles owner did tell reporters that there seemed to be more qualified college coaches than when he last had a vacancy to fill 14 years ago.

“The NFL tends to borrow more from college than the other way around,” Lurie said.

Lurie was aided in his 1999 search by Joe Banner and Tom Modrak. He said Monday that general manager Howie Roseman and team president Dom Smolenski would help him size up the candidates.

Eagles vs. Browns?

Banner, who stepped down as Eagles president in June, is now the CEO of the Cleveland Browns, who also are looking for a new coach. The Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur on Monday.

In what would be a showdown between Banner and his former team, the Eagles and Browns seem to be targeting the same college coaches. Aside from Marrone, Cleveland also has been linked to Kelly and O’Brien.

The Eagles seemed to fire the first shot when they made veiled references to the role Banner played in the failed 2010 and 2011 Eagles drafts. In explaining why Roseman would remain, Lurie said that he held the third-year GM accountable only for the 2012 draft and offseason.

Although Roseman had made public statements that he was responsible for the 2010-11 draft boards and praised many of those selections, Lurie said the mistakes had very little to do with Roseman’s evaluations.

Reid had final say on football matters, but Lurie seemed to be pinning the blame on someone else.

“I want to take a much higher road than that and just say that I’ve had to really go through exactly everyone’s talent evaluations and realized that we needed a real streamlining of the process,” Lurie said.

Banner was phased out early last offseason. He, of course, had something to do with the Eagles’ 15 previous drafts before 2010-11, some of which were successful. Still, the implication that Banner wrecked two drafts could hurt his reputation, or it could backfire on the Eagles if candidates don’t believe their story.

The college candidates

Kelly, 49, is considered to be an innovative coach who would be able to make the transition to the pros even though he has never worked in the NFL. The New England Patriots have implemented some of his hurry-up offense this season and coach Bill Belichick has cribbed from Kelly’s practice regimen.

Oregon plays Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl. The Eagles, Browns, and possibly one of the five other teams looking for a coach could move quickly to snatch him.

O’Brien will be a more difficult hire because of a buyout clause in his contract and because it would be hard for him to leave Happy Valley after one season. Sources around the NFL, though, believe O’Brien can be persuaded to leave because this may be his best opportunity before NCAA sanctions are likely to cripple the program.

O’Brien was said to be “strongly considering” interviewing with an NFL team, according to Sports Illustrated. The buyout clause is said to be from $9 million to $18 million. Some believe O’Brien may be using NFL overtures as leverage to rework his contract with Penn State.

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