I have been asked on numerous occasions what my thoughts are regarding the Browns' head coach search and what do I see ultimately occurring.
I have been and remain skeptical that the Browns, as they are constructed, will gain the success they seek because of the influential presence of Joe Banner in Jimmy Haslam's ear, as well as Mike Lombardi, who continues to play a role, which comes with impartiality.
A year ago the Browns muffed the head coaching search. They bypassed qualified candidates believing the Browns job was the best on the planet. Their collective arrogance and belief they 'knew all' was detrimental in the process and ultimate hire of Rob Chudzinski.
The Browns weren't offering absolute power. Nick Saban wasn't coming to Cleveland. The Browns didn't want a strong personality. Ken Whisenhut wasn't coming to Cleveland. The Browns didn't want to deal with someone with an ego and arrogance equal to or bigger than their own. Chip Kelly wasn't coming to Cleveland.
Mike Zimmer, no. He was a defensive coach. Jay Gruden, no. He wasn't experienced enough.
And the list goes on.
The Browns settled on Chudzinski. Why? They thought they could control him and develop him in the grand scheme of Banner — hire a first time head coach that will go along with what he's told.
It didn't happen. Chudzinski went against the grain, shrugged off suggestions of Banner and Lombardi, which is a death sentence when dealing with those personalities.
The last search was led by Banner. Haslam was an inexperienced party learning the game on the fly. Haslam wanted to make the 'big splash,' the popular hire and believed it could be achieved without monumental effort.
This is Cleveland, it isn't a hot-bed of popularity and certainly not a job that jumps off the chart at proven candidates.
The Browns state they won't discuss candidates and they haven't. But, candidate names have surfaced and interestingly the Browns issued a statement refuting only one rumored candidate -- Jim Tressel.
So, names of speculated candidates make their way to the public.
Not wanting to be embarrassed, the Browns attempt to keep actual interviews quiet, knowing some of their candidates or coaches they wish to speak with have garnered interest from other teams, pro and college.
Ohio native and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops is rumored to be a candidate. Some behind the scenes talk ensues and Stoops doesn't beat down the Browns' door wanting the job. While his name gets out, the positive PR does not ensue and Stoops name is dismissed as a candidate, but the reality is Stoops won't consider a move to the NFL without gaining the power to make decisions.
Vanderbilt's James Franklin's name enters the fray. Successful head coach at Vandy gets the most of his players and is an excellent communicator, coach and man. He happens to be coaching next door to Haslam's love, the Tennessee Volunteers where the Browns' owner has had the opportunity to see him up close and discuss him with his boys in the SEC. Franklin just happened to work for the Philadelphia Eagles for a short period, but there are two problems. One, he isn't a yes man. Franklin likes to control his situation and he likes the college game. Two, Franklin is a hot candidate for the Penn State job, the Browns don't want to appear to be the second fiddle.
Dan Quinn, yes a good defensive coach, a first-year defensive coordinator in Seattle and is respected. Quinn interviews with the Browns, is said to be decisive, informative and a pretty strong personality, but the Browns don't see him having the experience to come in and immediately change the present Browns situation.
The Browns interview Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, an experienced defensive coach that has been successful as a position coach as well as a defensive coordinator. Has been an intern HC, is respected and improved upon Ray Horton's defense with the Cardinals. Bowles interviews well, but isn't a push-over and comes across as a candidate that believes a head coach needs to have a voice in matters. Bowles has concerns about the Browns' lack of patience and continuity.
The speculation leads to Auburn's Gus Malzahn, who is an offensive coach that has been highly successful along every stop in his coaching career. Malzahn is one of those offensive coaches capable of scheming his offense to fit the type of talent on a roster and do so at an extremely high level. The Browns watch and listen to those evaluating Malzahn and are aware he possesses the type of qualities Chip Kelly had displayed. The Browns are interested and if Auburn catches wind the Browns are lurking, Malzahn will have to be overwhelmed to seriously consider leaving Auburn. He loves the school and believes the best is yet to come.
The last known candidate, which has been rumored to be in the bag for the Browns, has interviewed for the position and has strong ties to the Browns -- Josh McDaniels. The New England offensive coordinator has proven he can be an effective position coach and coordinator under the tutelage of Bill Belichick, a former Browns head coach. But McDaniels taking the job if asked isn't guaranteed.
Those around and knowing McDaniels will say the offensive coordinator is not the same guy he was when he was the head coach and guru of personnel in Denver (2009-2010). He has matured, gained professionalism, humility and respect since returning to New England in 2011. His players will say he is tough, demanding and expects perfection. McDaniels has been taken under the wing by Belichick, which is said to be a completely scenario from the other coaches which left Belichick to fail in head coach opportunities.
McDaniels is a favorite of Lombardi, which has ties to Nick Saban (Haslam favorite - former Lombardi com padre) and of course Belichick. McDaniels believes in the 'Patriot Way' of doing things -- building a team and its values. Banner believes in the system that Lombardi utilizes to grade/evaluate talent -- as well as some names Lombardi can potentially provide in a McDaniels hire to assist the head coach and get the Browns off to a strong start.
If it isn't obvious, it should be. The deck is stacked in favor of a McDaniels hire.
The wild card is Haslam, who is said to want to hear from other candidates and he continues to talk with close confidants.
The trade that wasn't made worked out for Browns and their all-pro wide receiver Josh Gordon.