By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - First to fire, last to hire.
Outside of the Houston Texans, who jettisoned their former head coach Gary Kubiak during the season, the Cleveland Browns had the itchiest trigger finger during this year's coaching carousel, giving up on Rob Chudzinski hours after the regular season ended.
Yet, if the Minnesota Vikings come to terms with Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as expected, there will be one vacancy left in the entire NFL -- the Browns.
Cleveland didn't wait for "Black Monday," firing Chudzinski, a consolation prize after the Browns failed to lure Chip Kelly to the Buckeye State, shortly after the team finished up a dismal 4-12 season, his first one on the job.
The next day the Vikings axed Leslie Frazier and three other teams bid adieu to their mentors (Detroit (Jim Schwartz), Tampa Bay (Greg Schiano) and Washington (Mike Shanahan). Days later Tennessee also decided to part ways with long-time employee Mike Munchak.
The first club to target a coach and make a decision was the Bucs, who brought ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith back to Central Florida, where he was an assistant for a number of years under Tony Dungy, just three days after parting ways with Schiano.
The Texans, who had the big head start, were the next to act, convincing Bill O'Brien to return to the NFL from Penn State.
Almost a week past before the next domino fell and that resulted in Jay Gruden relocating from Cincinnati to the Beltway with an eye on repairing Robert Griffin III's reputation with the Redskins.
The Titans, perhaps intent on helping Jake Locker in what is likely a make-or- break season for him in Nashville, convinced "quarterback whisperer" Ken Whisenhunt to pass on Motown for the Music City on Monday, and the Lions quickly followed by scooping up their silver medal a day layer, former Indianapolis head man and Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
That left Minnesota zeroing in on Zimmer and the Browns left looking like an out of touch organization being shunned by the "hot" candidates.
The early speculation in Cleveland's search centered on New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a close friend of Browns general manager Mike Lombardi.
McDaniels, however, abruptly removed himself from consideration after interviewing for the position, a development which some have painted as a face-saving maneuver by the former Denver coach after it became clear he was not the Browns' top choice.
That is believed to be McDaniels' mirror in this weekend's AFC Championship Game, 35-year-old Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Making deep runs in the postseason never help coordinators because there is so much pressure on front offices to make decisions quickly once the en vogue names starting coming off the board.
The timing on the Senior Bowl Week, which starts the day after the championship games and serves as almost an assistant coaching convention, is also a big part of the process because that's where staffs get put together.
San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, for instance, would be generating far more buzz if not for his own success. He has juggled completely different quarterbacks and offenses under Jim Harbaugh in the Bay Area, succeeding with both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. The Niners are 41-13-1 (including the postseason) since Harbaugh and Roman arrived from Stanford and will be participating in their third straight NFC Championship Game.
Another win on Sunday and Roman, along with Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, would not be able to be hired until Feb.3, the day after Super Bowl XLVIII.
The same holds true for Gase and Denver defensive chief Jack Del Rio as well as Seahawks coordinators Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn, who have also gotten a lot of attention during the coaching searches around the country.
The Browns, who probably have the worst reputation among the franchises who were looking for a new pilot and therefore little to lose, are the only ones staying strong and true to their No. 1 target, Gase, a buyer-beware type with little experience.
The Michigan native has only been in charge of Denver's offense for one year and virtually everyone understands the real leader of that unit is Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Fame quarterback who isn't going to be following Gase to Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the wunderkind of the Broncos' record-setting offense already postponed a potential interview with the Browns until the Broncos season is over, a tact indicating he's either buying his own hype, understands he is not ready for an NFL coaching job, or simply doesn't want any part of the Cleveland gig.
On the plus side Manning speaks very highly of Gase and is close friends with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam dating back to Manning's time at the University of Tennessee.
In the end, though, this is shaping up as an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket situation for Cleveland.
While cooling their heels the Browns have played footsy with Munchak, Quinn, Caldwell, Zimmer and Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo but at this point anything other than Gase for Cleveland and this becomes Chud: The Sequel -- settling for a coach the team never really wanted.
01/14 16:43:08 ET