CLEVELAND (AP) - Another qualified coaching candidate has eluded the Browns.
Ken Whisenhunt’s decision to accept Tennessee’s opening leaves Cleveland as one of just three NFL franchises still searching for a head coach.
Whisenhunt, who guided Arizona to a Super Bowl, came close to being hired by the Browns last year and interviewed with the team on Saturday.
San Diego’s loss on Sunday in the AFC playoffs freed up teams to make offers to Whisenhunt and he chose the Titans after it appeared he was headed to Detroit. It’s not known if the Browns tried to outbid the Titans for the well-regarded 51-year-old.
With Whisenhunt no longer in the mix, the Browns moved into the third week of their quest to replace Rob Chudzinski without any clear front-runner, but with a new former NFL head coach on their list.
The team has interviewed at least five known candidates and the Browns reportedly met Monday with former Titans coach Mike Munchak, also in consideration with the Lions.
The 53-year-old Munchak, a Hall of Fame lineman, went 22-26 in three seasons with the Titans, who fired him on Jan. 4, ending his 30-plus-years association 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 current 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.