Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Even though they are virtually out of the playoff picture, the Browns have gripped the national football media as a compelling feel-good story of a team coming together in a most unusual circumstance.
A grizzled interim head coach and an anonymous offensive coordinator have come out of nowhere to assist and promote the rapid growth of their precocious rookie quarterback, and they’ve won four of six games, to boot.
You would expect that the 17-16 road win in Denver would bolster the argument for Gregg Williams to earn the full-time head coach job. And it has. But there was one story reported on the network pre-game shows that could be construed as a little foreboding for Williams, and it went largely unnoticed.
On the FOX NFL Sunday pre-game show the morning after the Browns’ win in Denver, FOX insider Jay Glazer dropped a bomb.
Glazer reported, “It did lock up the job for their offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens because of the job he’s doing with Baker Mayfield. But because now they have a coach for Baker, they can open up that head coaching search. They don’t have to go find that offensive guru. They can go out and find the best guy for the job.”
Glazer added that Williams may have a shot at getting the head coach job if the Browns “run the table” and win their last two games, “but right now, they’re not ready to hand Gregg the job just yet.”
So, Williams advanced for the second week in a row in the fifth ESPN Cleveland Browns head coach tracker.
The tracker ranks potential Browns candidates on points out of a possible 100.
1. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma University head coach ... 15 points.
Last week: 1. 16 points.
Until Riley states his future plans – after Oklahoma’s season is over, of course – we will assume leaving the Sooners for the NFL has not been ruled out. NBC Sports’ Peter King added to Riley’s candidacy when he said on the Browns’ daily radio show on ESPN 850 WKNR that Browns GM John Dorsey – point man on the coaching search – is a “big fan” of the Big 12 Conference and the Oklahoma football program.
2. Gregg Williams, Browns interim coach … 14 points.
Last week: 3. 13 points.
He may not be outwardly campaigning for the job, but he is calling in chips to showcase his myriad sports contacts. Such as: introducing Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, a reputed fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, to 1960s Cardinals mainstay Mike Shannon, now a team broadcaster and also Williams’ father-in-law; and inviting NBA great Kobe Bryant, a.k.a. the Black Mamba, to speak to the team the night before the Denver game.
3. Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator … 13 points.
Last week: 4. 12 points.
Glazer’s report would support the theory that Toub has been among Dorsey’s A-list candidates all along. Marrying Toub to Kitchens – and possibly Williams as defensive coordinator – would also fall in line with that possibility.
4. Mike McCarthy, former Green Bay Packers coach … 12 points.
Last week: 2. 14 points.
He is a safe choice for any NFL opening. But if Glazer’s report is accurate, it would seem to lessen the attraction to McCarthy, whose offense is different from Kitchens’.
5. Bruce Arians, retired, CBS game analyst … 11 points.
Last week: 7. 8 points.
He is on record as saying he is cool with Kitchens as his offensive coordinator.
6. Kris Richard, Dallas Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator … 10 points.
Last week: 6. 9 points.
His defense did hold Andrew Luck without a touchdown pass in a 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He will be a hot candidate this hiring season. And he would need an offensive coordinator (Kitchens).
7. Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach ... 8 points.
Last week: 8. 8 points.
If Dorsey is “a big fan” of the Big 12 Conference, as King reported, then he knows all about Campbell’s sterling record of changing the culture at Iowa State.
8. Freddie Kitchens, Browns offensive coordinator … 7 points.
Last week: 11. 2 points.
The biggest factor in the Browns’ turnaround has been on offense. According to Glazer’s report, it has secured Kitchens’ return as offensive coordinator. Could he ascend to the top job? Unlikely, but we won’t sleep on the possibility.
9. Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator … 6 points.
Last week: 5. 10 points.
The Patriots looked so old and slow in their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, McDaniels probably will seek to bail out rather than getting shipwrecked as Bill Belichick’s successor with no heir-apparent to Tom Brady.
10. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens coach … 3 points.
Last week: 9. 5 points.
There is no doubt in my mind that he and the Ravens will agree to part ways.
11. Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator … 1 point.
Last week: 10. 3 points.
I almost dropped him off this list. His best career move may be to stay put under the wing of Chiefs coach Andy Reid.