CLEVELAND (AP) — Win or lose, once Chip Kelly finishes coaching Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and walks off the field and likely toward a job in the NFL, the Browns will be waiting for him
They won't be alone.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills also are interested in signing Kelly, the offensive mastermind whose break-neck, stop-us-if-you-can system is already being copied in the pro game. There could be others courting the 49-year-old Kelly, but the Browns, Eagles and Bills seem to be the leaders to land him.
It's not yet clear who will get the first crack at Kelly, who has spent the past few days in advance of Thursday night's game against Kansas State deflecting questions about his future.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have spent the past few days in Arizona, where they have already several interviews in preparation of their meeting with Kelly. On Tuesday, the Browns interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who described his meeting with the team as "fantastic."
On Wednesday, the Browns' brass met with former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, fired earlier this week after six seasons with the club. Whisenhunt was a special teams coach in Cleveland under Chris Palmer in 1999, the Browns' first season back in the league as an expansion franchise.
And according to multiple reports, the Browns also interviewed Syracuse's Doug Marrone and Penn State's Bill O'Brien for their coaching vacancy.
However, O'Brien's agent, Joe Linta, said late Thursday night that the coach has decided to stay at Penn State. O'Brien, who previously worked as New England's offensive coordinator, steered the Nittany Lions through the horrendous Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal this season and to an 8-4 record.
"His loyalty to the team and those kids was a really strong bond," Linta said in a phone interview with the Associated Press. "Although he loves the NFL and loves coaching, the experience this year with those kids was the opportunity of a lifetime for him."
The Browns are not confirming or commenting on any interviews.
When he announced Pat Shurmur's firing earlier this week, Haslam was aware that a bidding war might lie ahead if Cleveland is to get its top choice as coach.
Although this may be his first foray into a coaching search, Haslam has hired many business executives over the years and he wasn't concerned about any competition. In fact, he seemed to relish a race.