By DWIGHT JAYNES
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Although Chip Kelly seemed totally uninvolved, rumors were swirling Wednesday about the Oregon coach heading off to the National Football League soon after his team's Fiesta Bowl game Thursday night in nearby Glendale.
And of all those rumors -- including purported interest by several of the seven teams with vacant head-coach positions and a couple teams who have yet to fire their coach -- the one that seems to make the most sense is the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have a new owner in Jimmy Haslam III, a resident of Knoxville, Tenn., who is very much in tune with college football and is a big Tennessee Volunteer booster. I'm guessing he was in the stadium that stormy 2010 night in Knoxville when Kelly's Ducks hammered the Vols 48-13.
Haslam is also considered a progressive owner who has publicly stated his desire to hire his head coach prior to his general manager so the head coach will have full say over personnel matters.
That would be important to Kelly. He was asked during Thursday's news conference about whether his system would work in the NFL and it didn't take him long to get around to personnel.
"The one thing about that, about everything, is that you have to have good players," he said. "Sometimes the coaching aspect is way overrated. We don't play the game.
"I think college football is a personnel-driven game, so is the NFL. Your job as a coach is to put your players in positions to make plays, get out of the way so they can go make them."
In Cleveland, ownership is committed to hiring a GM who would help the coach get the players he wants -- which Kelly would probably be in a position to demand from any NFL team.
Haslam seems most very interested in hiring a college coach. He is rumored to be considering Kelly, Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Alabama's Nick Saban. Within the NFL, the Browns job -- in spite of recent hard times (just one .500 season over the last dozen years) -- is considered a promising one because of the new ownership, a passionate fan base and a young roster.
One report says that Kelly already interviewed here with Cleveland CEO Joe Banner Tuesday night. The Oregon coach turned down an offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last winter, when rumors had him taking the job. At the time, insiders said Kelly had issues with how much control the Bucs would give him over personnel and the hiring of assistant coaches.
Kelly, of course, continues to deny he's even thinking about the NFL. He was asked if he expects to field multiple offers after the bowl game.
"I don't expect anything," Kelly said. "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."
But Kelly has one of the most effective agents in the business in David Dunn, who will certainly have an itinerary and matching agenda ready for Kelly as soon as Friday morning. And my guess is, Cleveland will be right at the top of that itinerary.