By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — The Browns may strike quickly to get Chip Kelly, Oregon’s coach who does everything in a hurry.
Kelly, whose up-tempo, fast-paced offense has captured the imagination of several NFL teams and maintained the Ducks’ status as a national power, appears to be near the top of Cleveland’s list of candidates to replace Pat Shurmur, fired earlier this week after going 9-23 in two seasons.
According to several reports, Browns CEO Joe Banner is already in Arizona and intends to interview Kelly, who is preparing the fifth-ranked Ducks for Thursday night’s Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State. An interview could take place as early as Friday.
Kelly has been deflecting questions about his future all week. He did so again on Wednesday when he was asked if he expects to be contacted by NFL teams in the days ahead.
“I don’t expect anything,” said Kelly, 45-7 in four years at Oregon. “I said this a million times. I’m never surprised by anything. I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game tomorrow night and I’m going to be there.”
After that, his next stop isn’t certain.
Kelly and Alabama’s Nick Saban are the hottest commodities in the college game. It’s possible that new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam may make a strong run at Saban, who worked in Cleveland as an assistant under Bill Belichick in the 1990s.
Saban would not be available for an interview until after next Monday’s BCS title game, and the Browns could risk losing out on Kelly if they wait that long.
The Philadelphia Eagles are also believed to be interested in Kelly, who came close to taking Tampa Bay’s job last year.
Browns safety T.J. Ward knows the 49-year-old Kelly as well as anyone. Ward, who walked on with the Ducks, believes his former coach is ready to make the leap to the pros.
“I think the players in the NFL would respect him and they will respect how he approaches you,” Ward said. “He lets you do your job. In college, he treated us like pros. I think that’s what players respect and appreciate about him.”
It is not known if Haslam is with Banner in Arizona. Haslam said earlier this week that only he and Banner know which candidates may become Cleveland’s sixth coach since 1999. The Browns, who have lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons, are not confirming any interviews.
On Tuesday, the Browns interviewed Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who said his meeting with the team was “fantastic.”
Horton’s interview satisfies the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to speak with a minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation positions.
Haslam and Banner made it clear that their next coach will have final say of the team’s 53-man roster, a perk that could entice Kelly to leave Oregon. Kelly’s pedal-to-the-metal offensive system is intriguing to the Browns and other teams who have already borrowed aspects of Oregon’s no-huddle, go-go-go approach.
During the offseason, Kelly met with Belichick to share insight. Belichick has acknowledged using a few tips from Kelly, including the use of one-word play calls to speed up the Patriots offense.
“He’s a great coach,” Ward said. “You can see what he’s doing at Oregon. I think he has what it takes to be successful in this league. Whoever they pick, Chip is a great option. He’s a great motivator. He comes in and he knows what he wants to do and he gets his players to play for him and play hard.
“He has a great scheme, great system. He’s a high-energy coach.”
If Kelly comes to Cleveland, he may have to adjust his system to fit quarterback Brandon Weeden, who can throw the ball with anyone but doesn’t have the speed to run a spread offense.
“I don’t think I can run the zone read,” Weeden said, smiling.
There are some who doubt Kelly’s system can work in the NFL, arguing that it’s a trendy gimmick that will be exposed by bigger, faster and stronger defenders. Kelly was asked if he thought it could work at the next level.
“Don’t know, haven’t been there,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways to play football. Any coach is going to learn from other people and see how they can implement it in their system. Anything you do has to be personnel driven. You have to adapt to the personnel you have.”
Banner believes some elements of the spread offense are transferrable to the NFL.
“The game evolves and there is always some stealing from college into the pros and some stealing from going in the other direction,” he said. “You probably can’t just take a pure NFL system and put it in college and have it work and you probably can’t just take a purely clean current college system and put it in the pros and have it work.
“But that doesn’t mean there are things that the right coach could integrate from both systems that could work very well at this level.”
Cleveland also must replace general manager Tom Heckert, who was fired after three seasons. However, Banner said it’s possible the Browns may hire a player personnel director, giving the coach ultimate power.