Chip Kelly chase illustrates tricky nature of finding an NFL coach

The Cleveland Browns' search for a head coach is a mess. So is the Philadelphia Eagles'.

Both teams swung hard and fast at Chip Kelly, putting a full-court press on the Oregon coach over the weekend. By Friday afternoon and into Saturday, Kelly was telling those close to him (and the Cleveland brass) that he was nearing a decision, and that he wanted to coach the Browns. On Sunday, he turned his attention to the Eagles.

Meanwhile, the search conducted by the previously woeful Kansas City Chiefs could not have gone closer to their plan. They targeted Andy Reid and never let him escape, handing him full power and escorting former general manager Scott Pioli out the door. And the Buffalo Bills pulled the ultimate okey-doke, convincing former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone -- whom the Browns had privately viewed as one of their top choices -- to sign on the dotted line.

Doom in Cleveland. Not so sunny in Philadelphia. Hope in Kansas City. Bright lights in Buffalo.


The truth is, no one knows. I don't. You don't. No one does.

Does conducting a smooth head-coaching search make a team a winner? Does a long, ugly, trying, exasperating search lead to years and years of losses upon losses?

History shows that the actual process of finding a head coach -- whether a team hires its top candidate or its sixth choice -- doesn't have much bearing on future success. It's not a predictor.

One of the ugliest and most drawn-out searches in recent years brought Bill Belichick to the New England Patriots in 2000. That turned out OK. The University of Alabama spent 38 days searching for a coach to replace Mike Shula after the 2006 season, whiffing on Rich Rodriguez along the way. The Crimson Tide ended up with Nick Saban, and that turned out OK, too. It's also safe to say that USC was eventually pleased with its fourth or fifth choice in 2001: Pete Carroll.

Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins were more than thrilled in 2002 after taking just one day to fire Marty Schottenheimer and hire Steve Spurrier. We know how that disappointment turned out.

On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't hire Jon Gruden until Feb. 18, 2002 after a legal battle, and they ended up winning the Super Bowl the following season. Oh, and the Pittsburgh Steelers waited until Jan. 23, 2007 to hire Mike Tomlin after an interview that some dismissed as merely fulfilling the new Rooney Rule requirement. Tomlin was soon coaching in the Super Bowl.

The moral? No one knows.

They say the world hates to see the sausage being made. Yet with Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle and the unprecedented intensity of the reporting being done, we see it all. Teams swing and miss, and we take note. A lunch meeting turns into a nine-hour marathon session, and we live-tweet what the participants ate. We report along with the process, and the story can often shift. We note when a team requests an interview with a candidate, when it actually happens and what happens next.

We live these coaching searches. So do fans. But in the end, no one knows what fits and what doesn't.

Would Kelly have been the next Spurrier? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Have the Bills vastly overestimated Marrone, or have we underestimated him because he restored Syracuse to respectability rather than dominating at Texas or Penn State?

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Reid just suffered through a miserable two years with the Eagles, while Chiefs fans battled through two brutal years themselves. And yet, all Kansas City did was hand Reid full control, offering him the chance to recreate his winning history. Will Reid succeed, or will we see a replay of the end of his tenure in Philly?

There's the rub. What fits for one doesn't fit for another. A prime candidate can exist only in the eye of the beholder. Does the search reflect the quality of the candidate?

I'm not sure. Neither are you. We won't find out until next September, and then the next September after that.

There's only one thing to do until these coaching searches are over: Breathe and wait.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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