By Jeff McLane The Philadelphia Inquirer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It seemed like a showdown, and perhaps it was, but when the dust settled after the Eagles’ nine-hour interview with Oregon coach Chip Kelly on Saturday, only two teams were left standing.
But the two teams weren’t the Eagles and the Browns. The Cleveland contingent, headed by owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, jetted back to Cleveland on Sunday morning to reboot the team’s head coaching search without Kelly, an NFL source said.
That left the Eagles as the only NFL team still interested in Kelly, but he was also strongly considering staying with the Ducks. As of late Sunday evening, several sources close to the situation expected Kelly to stay in Eugene, Ore.
Although the Eagles have not commented on their interest in the 49-year-old coach, they did confirm Sunday morning that the interview took place. All they said Saturday was that owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and team president Don Smolenski were flying to Arizona to kick off a week of interviews.
The Eagles, though, had Kelly near the top, or even at the top, of their list, NFL sources have told The Inquirer for weeks. The long meeting cemented their interest, at the very least.
Some initially viewed the Eagles’ flight west as a last-ditch effort to sway Kelly from signing with the Browns and their old colleague and current nemesis Banner. There were reports that Cleveland, after interviewing him on Friday, was close to landing Kelly.
But a league source said that Kelly was not going to make a final decision until he had conducted three promised interviews. (The third team, Buffalo, hired Syracuse’s Doug Marrone on Sunday.) And Kelly was just as likely to stay at Oregon as he was to make the jump to the pros, the source said.
There were reports that the Browns backed off Kelly because they were not convinced he was 100 percent committed to leaving college football. Still, in light of the obvious competition, it is fair to wonder if Kelly at least gave the nod to the Eagles over the Browns.
Perhaps Kelly balked at some of the Browns’ demands in terms of decision making. The Browns’ next coach would report directly to Banner, the former Eagles president. Lurie has said his next coach would report to him and work in tandem with Roseman.
The Eagles, meanwhile, left Arizona on Sunday morning, as well. They headed to Denver for a scheduled interview with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. The meeting lasted approximately three hours, and the contingent jetted back home to regroup.
The Eagles still have two more confirmed interviews. They were granted permission to meet with Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The dates have yet to be announced.
Bradley, 46, still has some work left this season. The Seahawks beat the Redskins, 24-14, on Sunday. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was playing on a bad knee and eventually had to leave the game, and Bradley’s defense held the explosive Redskins to just 203 yards.
The Eagles can interview Bradley this week, but if they want him as their next coach, they would not be permitted to officially hire him until the playoffs ended for Seattle.
The Colts lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 24-9, on Sunday. Arians was not there, however. He was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. There were reports that he may have had a virus; he was expected to make a full recovery.
Aside from Bradley and Arians, the Eagles have one more reported target. They requested an interview with Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, although Cincinnati had yet to grant the Eagles permission. The Arizona Cardinals also planned to interview Gruden, according to reports.
The Eagles were scheduled to meet with Marrone on Sunday, but he agreed to terms to become the Bills head coach in the early-morning hours. The Browns also interviewed Marrone, bringing the total number of college candidates that the Eagles and Cleveland were interested in to three.
Both teams interviewed Bill O’Brien last week, but the Penn State coach opted to stay in State College. Kelly is considered the cream of the crop, however. He supposedly accepted an offer from the Buccaneers last January only to renege hours later.
Kelly has never coached in the NFL, but many expect him to make the jump this year. Oregon has gone 46-7 in Kelly’s four seasons at the helm, including a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday.
The program is being investigated by the NCAA for an alleged payment made to a recruit from an outside source and could face sanctions. Kelly has said the investigation would have nothing to do with his leaving. He said after the Fiesta Bowl that he planned to make a quick decision.
He is taking his time after the meeting with the Eagles. There is speculation that he is flirting with the NFL to leverage Oregon into raising his salary. (O’Brien reportedly just received a better deal from Penn State.)
The NFL Network reported that Nike founder and Oregon alum Phil Knight was making a late push to sweeten the pot for Kelly and keep him from leaving.
Lurie said Monday that he was committed to hiring the best coach possible to replace Andy Reid.
Aside from Kelly, O’Brien, and McCoy, the Eagles have interviewed Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.