So far, the Cleveland Browns' coaching search can only be described as a false start. One would think that if a team were going to fire its hand-picked head coach after just one season, then it would have a replacement in mind. One would also think that the team would be confident that replacement would certainly accept the job.
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had withdrew his name from the Browns coaching search.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has withdrawn from consideration for the Cleveland Browns HC job, per a league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 8, 2014
Most people believed that the main target of the Browns coaching search had been McDaniels all along. He has head coaching experience and grew up in Cleveland as a Browns fan. It seemed like the perfect fit.
Schefter reported, “A person who knows McDaniels told ESPN the coach had an 'awesome' meeting with the Browns but that it is not the right time for him to make a move. McDaniels enjoys his job working with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick too much to leave New England at this time, according to the source.”
So now that McDaniels is out of the fold, where do the Browns turn? The list of candidates still available looks something like the last day of a yard sale.
Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is one of those picked-over items. While he has had only one head-coaching stint, he already interviewed for the Browns job last season.
“I don’t think there will be anybody from last year’s search who will be a candidate this year,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said via Ohio.com in his press conference last week.
Apparently that has changed.
The Browns interviewed Green Bay Packers quarterback coach Ben McAdoo, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. This would be eerily similar to the hiring of Rob Chudzinski last year, just without the coordinator experience.
There are only two legitimate candidates left for the Browns and even that label is generous: Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Gase, whose team is preparing for what it believes will be a long playoff run, will not accept interviews until after the season, if at all. If the Browns choose to wait for him, they could be waiting nearly a month.
While Gase was the coordinator of best offense in the NFL this past season, he also had the luxury of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game operating his system. Gase is a young coach with a fiery attitude and those are qualities the Browns front office is looking for.
The golden nugget of this coaching search, however, is Malzahn. The 48-year-old coach made a meteoric rise from high school head coach, to head coach at Auburn and nearly National Champion in just eight short years.
He’s an offensive phenom. He’s the author of the book The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy. Elements of his system have already been installed into offenses around the NFL. He is credited for single-handedly reshaping high school offenses across the state of Arkansas.
While Malzahn is a risk, he also has the highest ceiling of all the coaching candidates. There is just one problem: He has not agreed to interview with the Browns, or any other team for that matter.
In fact, at the Rose Bowl pregame dinner he told NFL.com, "I'm happy at Auburn. I think I've made that clear."
Plenty of coaches have said this before and still made the jump to the big leagues. It’s time for Jimmy Haslam to pull out all the stops and make this hire happen. He should be wooing Malzahn day-and-night until he, at the very least, agrees to an interview.
It’s not just what Malzahn has done in the past though. It’s more about what he can do in the future. His offense was ranked seventh in the nation at Auburn last year with Nick Marshall at quarterback.
Can you imagine what it would have looked like with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel running the show? That is the reality he could have in 2014. One of those two quarterbacks could easily be wearing an orange helmet.
While Malzahn would have to tweak his scheme to counteract the athleticism and skills of NFL defenses, it has been done before. Just look at whom the Browns swung and missed on last offseason.
Chip Kelly went to Philadelphia and tweaked his innovative collegiate offense. Not only did he make the Eagles the second-best offense in the NFL, but NFC East champions with Nick Foles at quarterback as well.
The future is now in the NFL and these offenses are not gimmicks anymore. They combine a deceptive rushing attack with deep-threat passing and run it at opponents to the tune of more than 80 plays a game. It’s time for the Browns to get on board.
Because if the Browns cannot get Malzahn to interview, they will once again be settling for their third or fourth option at head coach. We saw how well that worked out with Chudzinski.