By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — The Browns are in a final four they never want to revisit.
Cleveland remains one of four NFL franchises still looking for a head coach, and as the Browns enter the third week of their search to find the replacement for Rob Chudzinski, there doesn’t appear to be anyone close to getting the job.
The team has interviewed at least five known candidates and the Browns were reportedly meeting Monday with former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak. The 53-year-old Munchak, a Hall of Fame lineman, went 22-26 in three seasons with the Titans, who after a week of meetings and discussions fired him on Jan. 4 and ended his more than 30 years with the franchise.
Cleveland’s degree of interest in Munchak isn’t known since the team is not commenting on any interviews and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have maintained a low profile since dumping Chudzinski after one season.
And while there may not be a clear favorite to take over as Cleveland’s seventh full-time coach since 1999, there are signs that Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase could be the Browns’ top choice.
The 35-year-old Gase was the first candidate contacted by the Browns, but he informed them — along with the Minnesota Vikings — that he wanted to wait until after the playoffs to be considered.
“I told both teams that were interested in me that I appreciated it and I was going to wait until after our season had concluded,” Gase said on Jan. 3. “They were great about it. They said they appreciated me being up front and honest about it, and I thought that was the best decision for what we are trying to accomplish with our team.”
It’s not known if Gase has agreed to an interview with either team.
NFL rules prohibit teams from offering jobs to assistant coaches who are still in the playoffs.
Gase’s decision to delay any interviews raised some flags about whether he’s actually ready to be a head coach. But as long as he’s paired with quarterback Peyton Manning, Gase’s profile will continue to grow and he’ll undoubtedly be coveted if he waits another year.
Following Denver’s win on Sunday over San Diego, Manning praised Gase during his postgame news conference for his play calling in helping the Broncos advance to Sunday’s AFC Championship against New England.
In his first season as Denver’s offensive coordinator, the Broncos scored an NFL record 606 points and led the league with 457.3 yards per game and 340.3 yards passing.
His resume is impressive, but even if the Browns meet with Gase, it’s not a given he will be hired. He’s never been a head coach, and Haslam and Banner said they were determined to find a “strong winner who knows how to win football games” as they began looking for their second coach in just over a year.
If the Browns chose to wait on Gase, they run the risk of the coaching talent pool drying up and being in a desperate situation should he turn them down.
Cleveland has waited until after the Super Bowl before. Following the 2004 season, the Browns hired Romeo Crennel in the hours after the Super Bowl.
The Browns are already losing a public relations war as the search has dragged on. After New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels withdrew his name from consideration for Cleveland’s opening last week, it heightened the perception that Cleveland is not an attractive job. It hasn’t helped that some national reports have described the Browns’ situation as “toxic” and “radioactive.”
San Diego’s loss freed Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to accept a job. He interviewed with the Browns on Saturday and the 51-year-old would be a nice fit in Cleveland. However, he is also in consideration for the openings in Tennessee and Detroit and is presumed to be a lock to wind up with the Lions.
Whisenhunt was a finalist for the Browns’ opening last year and was the only candidate known to have a second interview with the team before Chudzinski was hired.
The Browns have also interviewed Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo.