After New England assistant and former head coach Josh McDaniels removed himself from consideration for the Cleveland Browns opening on Wednesday, the beleaguered franchise’s coaching search has seemed to hit a bit of an impasse.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have interviewed several candidates, including McDaniels, but have thus far come up empty on the search. They reportedly met with Arizona’s Todd Bowles and Seattle’s Dan Quinn, but the search has gotten so thin they have even considered Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, who has done an excellent job with Aaron Rodgers but doesn’t have quite the level of experience as the other available top candidates around the league.
Instability has plagued Cleveland’s front office and coaching circles and could be a big reason why the team is struggling to find a suitable replacement for one-and-done Rob Chudzinski. Dating back to 1984, of the Browns 11 head coaches, only four have had a tenure of three or more seasons.
There are several red flags to the job that Cleveland fans, and potential candidates, are fully aware of. The Browns made the playoffs in five straight years from 1985 to 1989, but have since advanced to the postseason three times. The last being 2002, and they own the second longest playoff drought in the NFL.
Asking a coach to come in and turn around a franchise mired in that kind of culture is a highly unenviable position. However, the Browns already possess the NFL’s leading receiver in Josh Gordon, and can address their quarterback and running back issues with the seven draft picks they own in the first four rounds of the upcoming draft.
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The Browns are also loaded with terrific young talent both in the secondary and along the defensive front. Defensive backs Joe Haden and Buster Skrine arguably represent the best one-two secondary combo in the NFL, and the solid linebacker corps of veteran Paul Kruger, rookie Barkevious Mingo, and Jabaal Shepard totaled 15 of the team’s 40 total sacks.
With a promising young defense and at least one top offensive player, the Browns should still be considered as one of the better jobs around the league.
As the number of venerable candidates becomes more and more thin, and assuming Haslam drums up more patience with his next head coach, he could consider former Ohio State general Jim Tressel and even try to coax Super Bowl winner Brian Billick back to the NFL.
The 61-year-old college coaching legend said last week he was interested in an NFL job, but also denied a report he had spoken with the Browns, according to Cleveland.com.
The same report indicated Tressel seemed more in line to be Jim Caldwell’s offensive coordinator if he was hired by Detroit or Tennessee.
Tressel moved on to executive VP of the University of Akron after he was forced to leave the Buckeyes for the much maligned improper benefits scandal that dropped the prominent program out of bowl contention for one year.
But that black eye likely hasn’t dashed Tressel’s proven ability to get the most out of his players and develop them. He amassed a 106-22 record with six Big Ten titles, with one national championship and two more appearances in college football’s biggest game.
That’s without mentioning his obvious connection with the state, and the marketing frenzy he would generate for the Browns.
A huge longshot for several reasons, not counting his nearly seven years removed from an NFL sideline, but Billick, 59, is still relatively young and is one of the few Super Bowl winning coaches technically available. Like Tressel, he also has an Ohio connection, originally hailing from Fairborn.
Nearly two years ago Billick pegged his inability to land a new job since Baltimore fired him in 2007 amidst apparent locker room issues to the league’s switch to a more general manager-centered hierarchy.
"It’s a general manager’s game. I’m not what they’re looking for," Billick said to ESPN before Super Bowl XLVI. "That’s fine. They want a head coach today that doesn’t have to worry about personnel, the cap or even the media. We’ll lock you in a room and you come out with a genius game plan. They’re looking for X's and O's guys. That’s the world we live in right now."
He hasn’t gotten a second chance since. Billick took the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in his second season, but didn’t win a single playoff game in two more appearances afterward.
However, it could be argued he laid Baltimore’s foundation for the last decade, especially with top defensive players and future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at the helm.
What won’t be lost on Cleveland fans is Billick’s obvious association with the franchise that spurned them back in 1996. But his strong and magnetic personality could be enough to turn around Cleveland.