The Browns intend to part with coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert at the end of the regular season, according to league sources, and new owner Jimmy Haslam has Saban very high on his list. Haslam -- a major booster at the University of Tennessee -- is quite familiar with Saban's prowess in the SEC, and Mike Lombardi, a top candidate for the Browns front office, has strong ties to Saban going back to when they worked in Cleveland on Bill Belichick's staff.
One source who has been in contact with Saban estimated that it's “80/20 he stays” at Alabama, but no one expects to hear definitively until after the school faces Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7. At the end of his last stint in the NFL, as head coach of the Dolphins in 2005-06, Saban notoriously told reporters "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach" less than two weeks before being named to the helm of the Crimson Tide program.
The Browns are among the teams high on Chip Kelly as well, but if they go with a coach from the pro ranks, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be a strong candidate, sources said. McDaniels is an Ohio native and the Browns are looking for ways to energize their offense. The defense has made progress of late but the new regime in Cleveland remains anything but sold on 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden as their quarterback.
McDaniels, 36, was head coach for parts of two turbulent seasons in Denver, going 11-17 in 2009-10 while notably clashing with (and eventually trading) quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. McDaniels was also behind the selection of quarterback Tim Tebow with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. At the same time, quarterback Kyle Orton and wideout Brandon Lloyd had career seasons under McDaniels in Denver, and that coupled with his sterling work as a play-caller in two stints as OC in New England makes a strong case for McDaniels' potential to get Cleveland's long-dormant offense on track.