Despite early reports and speculation that the Cleveland Browns head coaching job was Josh McDaniels' if he wanted it, the front office doesn't appear to be limiting their search.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported last night that the Browns are very interested in interviewing Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, according to league sources.
The Browns, who shocked the NFL by firing head coach Rob Chudzinski after one season, have interviews scheduled with several coaches, but, according to league sources, are doing arduous legwork on Malzahn and Franklin, and are very intrigued by them. Some believe Malzahn is actually the most likely of the group to land the position, though the process is still very much in its early stages.
Malzahn spent six years as an offensive coordinator in the college ranks, concluding with a three-year stint at Auburn, which included their 2010 National Championship season, before becoming the head coach of Arkansas State in 2012. After just one year with the Red Wolves, Malzahn jumped back to Auburn replacing Gene Chizik as head coach. Malzahn saw immediate success once again with a Tiger team that was 3-9 the year before, returning them to the pinnacle of college football. Malzahn is set to coach what could be his final game in the NCAA as his team takes on Florida State in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game on January 6.
While James Franklin's career path appears less prestigious, it does include a year of experience at the NFL level as WR coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2005. Following that job, he spent five years as an offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland before accepting the head coaching position at Vanderbilt in 2011. In three seasons with the Commodores, he's led them to a 23-15 record and three straight bowl appearances.
In a tweet today, La Canfora narrowed down the likely candidates to ultimately land the Browns job to Malzahn, Franklin, and McDaniels.
Gus Malzahn (Auburn) very much a top candidate for CLE. Vandy's James Franklin in the mix. One of them or McDaniels expected to get that job
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 1, 2014
Although the favorites may be limited to those three, here's the list of all the reported candidates so far:
- Josh McDaniels - Patriots OC - interview permission granted, occurs during team's playoff bye
- Dan Quinn - Seahawks DC - interview permission granted, occurs during team's playoff bye
- Todd Bowles - Cardinals DC - interview permission granted, can occur at anytime
- Adam Gase - Broncos OC - opting not to interview until after team's postseason
- Gus Malzahn - Auburn head coach - in BCS National Championship on Jan. 6
- James Franklin - Vanderbilt head coach - in BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4
As a final note, La Canfora also reported that the Browns are expected to hire Jim Schwartz as the team's new defensive coordinator.
Schwartz, recently fired as head coach of the Lions, is held in high regard by some in the Browns organization and he is the prime candidate to replace Horton, league sources said. Particularly if Malzahn is hired, who has a limited NFL background, it would be imperative that the Browns have some established NFL coaches around him.