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Browns interview Patriots assistant McDaniels for head-coaching job

CLEVELAND -- New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Browns defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interviewed with owner Randy Lerner about Cleveland's coaching vacancy on Friday.

The Ohio born and bred McDaniels just completed his third season overseeing the Patriots' offense and coaching quarterbacks. The 32-year-old former college quarterback was credited with transforming backup Matt Cassel into an effective starter after Tom Brady was lost for the season after injuring his knee in the opener.

McDaniels is the third coaching candidate to meet with Lerner, who spoke with fired Jets coach Eric Mangini on Tuesday and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on Thursday. Spagnuolo has also met with Detroit and will talk with the Jets on Saturday.

Lerner also interviewed T.J. McCreight, Cleveland's director of player personnel, about Cleveland's opening at general manager. Tucker is the first minority candidate to speak with Lerner, putting the Browns in compliance with the NFL's Rooney Rule.

McCreight worked alongside GM Phil Savage, fired in the rubble of an injury-filled 4-12 season that included some embarrassing off-the-field issues.

Lerner is hesitant to hire another first-time NFL head coach after Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel all came to Cleveland with sparkling resumes but no experience running a pro team. All failed.

But the highly regarded McDaniels could come in a package with Scott Pioli, the Patriots' director of player personnel who remains Lerner's top choice for GM.

Mangini is believed to be Lerner's preference despite his firing in New York after the Jets collapsed and missed the playoffs. Mangini, who made the postseason once in three years and went 23-25 during the regular season, began as a ball boy and public relations assistant with the Browns.

Lerner has spent the past four days doing interviews. He has not set up any for the first weekend of the playoffs. It was learned a scheduled interview with Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz may not take place.

Meanwhile, his search for a GM continues to focus on Pioli, who met with Lerner on Wednesday in the New York area.

No agreement was reached, leading to speculation that the 43-year-old Pioli wasn't interested in joining the Browns or that there was a major hang-up in negotiations. The sides may simply be evaluating their options; Pioli reportedly will interview with the Kansas City Chiefs for their GM opening.

Also, the Browns postponed an interview with Atlanta president Rich McKay, who is with the Falcons in Arizona for Saturday's first-round game against the Cardinals. Lerner still intends to speak with McKay, Atlanta's former GM who was moved upstairs after last season and took some of the blame for the club's handling of the Michael Vick dogfighting situation.

Pioli began his NFL career as a pro personnel assistant for Bill Belichick in Cleveland in 1992. He was promoted to pro personnel director four years later when the Browns moved to Baltimore. Belichick brought him to the Jets in 1997, and Pioli was credited with several key signings that helped New York go from 1-15 in 1996 to 12-4 in 1998.

As Belichick's top personnel man, Pioli has had a hand in New England's run of four conference championships and three Super Bowl wins.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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