Pioli? McKay? Mangini? Ferentz? Shanahan? McDaniels? Schottenheimer? Hell, you could even throw Crennel's name into the mix -- the rumors have been circulating the world of mass media all day today in terms of who Randy Lerner will hire or "sway at the mercy of the dollar" to join the Cleveland Browns.
First off, let's start with the general manager position:
According to the Plain Dealer, Lerner has meetings scheduled with Scott Pioli of the New England Patriots and Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons over the next two days. Both men would be considered a fairly "big hire".
If you ask Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, Lerner is going to push really hard for Pioli. Right now, Pioli may also interview with the Kansas City Chiefs. Pioli has an extra incentive in coming to Cleveland, for the same reasons we've been able to lure a few free agent players the past several years: local ties.
He [Pioli] likes Cleveland, has a close friendship with Indians general manager Mark Shapiro and has long considered restoring the Browns to prominence.
-Don Banks, SI.com
Then, the Boston Herald made things more interesting with the following statement today:
According to the source, Lerner was not pleased when former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher spurned his advances and so he is prepared to make what was described as a “huge” financial offer to Pioli that would include not only millions, but more importantly full control of the organization and the funds necessary to bring in Pioli’s first choice as head coach.
Some fans have indicated that they would like to see the Browns bring in McKay to the organization along with Pioli. McKay would not be brought in as team president, as we already have one in Mike Keenan. However, the role of Vice President of Football Operations might be intriguing. McKay's duties shifted from football to business after the Michael Vick fiasco in 2007, and he'd like to return to the football side of things.
Above, the Boston Herald snippet mentioned that Pioli would be given the funds to bring in his choice of a head coach. That coach, according to the source, would potentially be Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. I don't follow the college football scene closely enough to give my thoughts on him, but I'm a little turned off to getting someone straight from the college football route (way back when, Ferentz was the Browns' offensive line coach).
Hold on just a second though: the after having two winning seasons in the past three years with the New York Jets, the Browns have reportedly scheduled an interview with Eric Mangini. Is it plausible to interview for head coaches before bringing in a general manager? Or, is Lerner going to see where Mangini stands if Pioli is brought on board, including the possibility of Mangini becoming our defensive coordinator.
Right now, I'd still have to believe that Josh McDaniels, the Patriots' current offensive coordinator, has the best chance at becoming our next head coach (something that John Clayton of ESPN.com believes will happen).
Add another possible name to the list though: former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. The team fired him after 14 seasons, and I doubt that he'd be looking to take a year off or accept mere coordinator position somewhere. I'd have immediate faith in Shanahan's ability to utilize the talent on our roster to the best of his abilities. Denver has been without a solid running back since Clinton Portis left the team, yet he has incorporated fourth-string players into the gameplan if he needed to.
You do have to wonder how there are so many "inside sources" from places like SI, ESPN, and Yahoo each reporting slightly different "scoops". We'll have to be patient, but not too patient -- since the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs, can be made tomorrow if necessary.
On the other hand, a guy like Steve Spagnuolo of the New York Giants would have to be hired after the team gets eliminated from the playoffs. If Lerner wants to act quickly while not risking the other candidates on the market "getting away", Spagnuolo's chances may lessen.
UPDATE 7:45 PM: With that said, the Plain Dealer is reporting that the Browns requested permission from the Giants to interview Spagnuolo on Thursday or Saturday. Spagnuolo will also be interviewing for the Jets' and Lions' vacancies, so he'll be a busy man.