According to Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a source that was supposedly in the know at the time claims that the Browns reached out to then OSU Coach Jim Tressel to gauge his interest in the Cleveland job. Read the entire article here:
It isn't surprising that the Browns contacted Tressel to see his level of interest, nor is it surprising that Tressel didn't show any. On Cleveland's behalf, Tressel was a very popular local Coach that would appease the season ticket holders for a few years (if he didn't bomb). On Tressel's behalf, being successful in college is much easier than in the NFL, especially if you coach one of the nation's biggest football programs and know ways around those sticky NCAA by-laws.
What this article does reveal - to me, at least - is the depth of Randy Lerner's cluelessness in these matters and how fortunate we should feel to at last have professional football men running the show. At that time, Butch Davis had just been run out of town, big-name college coaches were failing left and right in the NFL, and the Browns were discussing Kirk Ferentz, Urban Meyer, and Jim Tressel? And Tressel was specifically suggested not necessarily because he was the best fit for the job, but because he had "Ohio sex appeal."
One statement from the article really says it all for me:
Lerner now was searching for the formula to save his organization from sinking further.
The Browns' source said: "The other side of it was, 'We can't hire another college coach. I don't care what you do, you've got to hire somebody with experience. You've done the rookie head coach [Crennel]. None of these college coaches are making it. You've got to hire somebody with experience, Randy, or you're going to get killed. The odds are [college route] is not going to work."
This really gives you the idea that Lerner was just randomly pushing buttons and praying something would work rather than having a coherent plan. You may or may not like Holmgren/Heckert, but it would be hard to deny that they at least THINK they know what they're doing.