Browns Gamble On Chip Kelly, Live to Play Another Hand

January 17th, 2013


What happens when a Tennessee billionaire plays Texas Hold ‘Em in Arizona? (photo:

By Staff Writer, Ryan Alton

I’m not a big poker player.  Nor am I a country music fan.  But there’s a song by Kenny Rogers called The Gambler that happens to echo what many believe to be the cardinal rule of poker. You gotta know when to hold ‘em/You gotta know when to fold ‘em.  In the case of the Cleveland Browns’ pursuit of University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, truer words were never spoken.  Or sung.  


Two weeks ago, Kelly was leading his team out of a tunnel and onto the field en route to a Fiesta Bowl victory over the Kansas State Wildcats.  On Wednesday, it was announced out of the blue, that he would be the next head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns had already gone in another direction.  Because situations in life are a lot like being dealt a hand in poker.  And the same rules apply.


By now, the timeline of events that took place as the Browns began their coaching search reads like a worn out book. While the overall story is familiar, the lines containing the details are largely a blur. The Browns brain trust of Owner Jimmy Haslam III and CEO Joe Banner had been there in Arizona all week interviewing other candidates for their vacant head coach position.  But it appeared they were just biding their time until they could talk to Kelly, which couldn’t happen until after Thursday night’s game.


They stated from the beginning that they had “no front-runner” for the position. They said they were going into this with an “open mind”.  They promised they were going to interview the “best possible candidates” who had the qualities they were looking for in a head coach. And maybe they did. But they sure made it look like Chip Kelly was the guy they were after from the start. And now that guy is going to coach somewhere else.  It doesn’t look great.


From a PR standpoint, it appears the Browns came off as too eager, tipping their hand, while the Eagles slow-played it perfectly, as if they landed Pocket Aces on the flop. The Eagles flew down to Atlanta to interview candidates with the Falcons rather than hopping the first flight to Arizona, where Kelly was. They had interviews set up in Denver and other places for the following week, making it look like, if Kelly spurned them, its no skin off their back. The Browns, on the other hand, due to their policy of secrecy during the search, were unknown to have any other interviews lined up after Kelly. As it turns out, they in fact did, but the perception at the time was that the Browns went all-in on Kelly and the Eagles were taking more of a wait and see approach. Well played Philly.


The Browns left Arizona having no deal with Kelly in place. As did the Eagles. It was first reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer that the Browns ‘walked away from Kelly because they weren’t 100 percent certain his heart was into leaving the Ducks’. To continue the metaphor, they saw what Kelly was holding and they folded. Many in Brownstown assumed this ‘report’ was nothing more than a spin job; the Browns way of saving face after what ended up being a confusing, perhaps even embarrassing, trip out west.


But now that the situation has been resolved with Kelly, the picture is becoming more clear. It appears Kelly did in fact do some waffling during his interviews in the desert. According to Mike Garafolo of USA Today Sports, after the Browns left to return to Cleveland, Kelly ‘really did turn down the Eagles the first time’ and apparently ‘he had a change of heart in the last 24 hours’, meaning THIS week, long after the Browns had already hired their next coach. Garafolo goes on to explain the timeline in more precise detail but the gist of it backs up Cabot’s claim that the Browns walking away was more than just spin to save face. Garafolo writes, ‘The Cleveland Browns saw Kelly’s initial indecision as a sign he wasn’t interested in them or the NFL’.


So what exactly were Haslam and Banner supposed to do at that point in the game… Fold?  Or continue to ante up and wait to see “the River” where the Eagles would eventually land a full house? As far as high-stakes poker goes, the Browns did what they should’ve done. They got out early and lived to see another hand. They couldn’t do what the Eagles did and interview everyone under the sun, raising the pot, and secretly hoping Kelly would have a change of heart at the last minute.  They would be done.


Sure, they could’ve waited to hire Rob Chudzinksi or Ken Whisenhunt this week after losing Kelly to the Eagles. But at what cost?  It was enough that they spent three days in the desert waiting for Kelly, buying in from the start. Now they should have waited another ten days until every last chip (no pun intended) lay out on the table? Maybe Randy Lerner would’ve done that, but I suspect Jimmy Haslam has more pride than that. There is only one Chip Kelly and the Browns found out in Arizona, one way or another, that they were on the outside looking in. It was time to move on. And I applaud them for that.


Now the Browns and the Eagles both have their guys. Maybe the Browns wanted Chip Kelly really bad. I know I did. But because of the process they underwent in Arizona, the reason people conduct interviews when filling any sort of vacancy, especially one as high-profile as an NFL head coach, they discovered perhaps Kelly wasn’t their guy anymore. Their curiosity with Kelly was piqued, as was mine, and they had to scratch that itch. I’m glad they did, even if it didn’t work out.


But don’t get me wrong. I have the same inclination that Chip Kelly will bring innovation and excitement to the NFL that I did before he decided to become a Philadelphia Eagle. I’m not going to let the fact that he chose another team over MY team change the way I feel about him becoming a head coach in the NFL. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do. I just hoped, for a while, it would be with the Cleveland Browns. In hindsight, I never wanted to admit it before, but Philly is definitely the better fit for him. On paper anyway.


And because I can admit that, I can also admit (with the benefit of hindsight) that I feel Chud, along with Norv Turner as his Offensive Coordinator, is the better fit for the Browns. At this time, with this team, there is little doubt.  Its a shame the search for ‘The guy’ went down this way. Some missteps were made for sure. I know it seems easy to say now but I explained briefly in my last piece what qualities I feel Chud brings to Cleveland and why I’m okay with him over Chip.  I just wish, because of those qualities, Haslam and Banner would’ve flown to Carolina BEFORE they flew to Arizona. If they had done that, they could tell the fan base with a straight face that Rob Chudzinski was their target from the start.


Instead, at Chud’s introductory press conference, they just reiterated what they said at the beginning; that they had no target. They went into it with an open mind. There was no front runner. And maybe that’s all true. But that’s not the way it came across. I blame the Browns for that. But I don’t blame them for not getting Chip Kelly.  It just wasn’t in the cards.





Tags: Chip Kelly, Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner, Rob Chudzinski

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