Thursday, January 23, 2014

Worth the wait?

Well, it’s about damn time.

Mike Pettine Jr. officially became the Browns’ seventh full-time head coach since 1999 with his anointment, er, appointment Thursday.

It wasn’t so much that Pettine beat out a large field of candidates. In reality, the Browns settled on the 47-year-old former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, a relatively late entrant into the Cleveland coaching derby.

Until recently, the new coach was Mike Who? When his name suddenly became associated with the Cleveland coaching vacancy, practically no one knew who he was. Only the most sophisticated professional football fan could tell you about him.

Pettine clearly is the not the club’s first choice and maybe not even their second or third choice. He didn’t pop onto their radar until about two weeks into the process. But you can bet Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner will deny it, claiming it was a “purposefully methodical” approach that helped land him.

The fact no other team chose to interview Pettine might very well be an accurate reflection on what other teams seeking a new head coach throughout the National Football League thought of his coaching prowess. Only the Browns hopped on that bandwagon.

Hopefully, they won’t get too dizzy spinning the situation to make it look as though he was their top choice from the beginning. Not when the likes of Josh McDaniels, Adam Gase and a few other veteran coaches were available.

It turned out to be a war of attrition for the Browns as the days and weeks tumbled by without a new coach. Nearly a dozen names popped into and out of the picture as the search dragged on for what seemed like forever. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but when the other six teams with coaching vacancies made relatively quick decisions, it made the Browns look like the model of indecision.

It actually took the team 18 days after the firing of Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 to even consider Pettine for the job. And it required three interviews – Jan. 16, this past Tuesday and again Thursday – before determining that, yes, he was their man.

Normally, it takes no more than two interviews to lock down a job as a head coach in the NFL. Pettine was put through three exhaustive sit-downs. Hard to know exactly what else could be gleaned from a third interview.

It has been reported that Pettine wanted this job badly. Good for him. That, of course, will sit well with some of the fan base. After all, opportunities like this don’t come along often. But after what happened to Chudzinski, he definitely must realize he is now working for the most mercurial front office in the league.

No doubt he honestly believes he can come to Cleveland and turn around the fortunes of this moribund and dysfunctional franchise. You don’t begin a new job with negative thoughts swimming in your head.

If nothing else, at least based on his reputation, Pettine will bring a hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach to a team that badly needs discipline, which was lacking with the last two coaches.

So why did no other NFL team so much as ask the Bills’ permission to interview Pettine? If he is so well respected and thought of throughout the league, why wasn’t he at least considered for a head-coaching job?

What did Haslam and Banner see in him that led them to believe that he was, indeed, the guy they were looking for? Or were they just throwing darts at a board and more landed on Pettine’s name than any other?

The answer might be contained in the Browns’ news release. “Mike is the epitome of what we want the Cleveland Browns to be – tough, aggressive and innovative – with a blue-collar, team-first mentality,” said Haslam.

“He knows what’s necessary to beat teams in the AFC North (having worked several years in Baltimore). Most importantly, Mike has repeatedly shown the ability to lead his players to consistent improvement and success, clearly what we are striving for . . .“

The most praise than can be heaped on the new Cleveland coach is he was the first coach Rex Ryan hired when he took over the New York Jets several years ago. He was the Jets’ defensive coordinator for four seasons when the club racked up some impressive numbers.

If he was so good, then why did Ryan allow him to leave for the Buffalo job following the 2012 season? It was a sideways move. Could it be that perhaps he was not really the defensive boss with the Jets, but the DC in name only? With a strong personality like the defensive-minded Ryan, one has to wonder who actually ran that defense.

That’s the same question asked by Browns fans when Romeo Crennel left the New England Patriots in 2005 to become the head man in Cleveland. Did Crennel really run the great Patriots defense or was it Bill Belichick? And we all know how that ended.

Another big question that needs to be answered is how much power the Browns will give their new coach. Chudzinski coached with one hand tied behind his back as Banner and Mike (The Ghost) Lombardi dictated the shape of the player roster.

If Haslam allows Banner and The Ghost the same latitude with regard to the roster and tells Pettine to stick to coaching, then it very well turn out to be the same old, same old. Again. The only thing that will change is who occupies the office of head coach.

The best attribute Pettine has going for him is his legacy. He is the son of a coach. Not just any coach, but a legendary coach in eastern Pennsylvania. His father, Mike, led Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown to a 326-42-4 record, winning four state Class AAAA state championships.

The new Cleveland coach, who bears a strong physical resemblance to Rick Harrison of the TV reality show Pawn Stars, also coached high school ball in that region for seven seasons before joining the NFL as a coaching assistant with Baltimore in 2002.

It also will be interesting to see whom Pettine hires as his coordinators, especially on defense. He ran a hybrid scheme that leaned more 4-3 than 3-4 in Buffalo, somewhat similar to what Ray Horton ran for the Browns last season.  

In Buffalo, though, Pettine worked with much more talent than he inherits with the Browns. He coached the likes of defensive linemen Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus and terrific rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso. He does not have that kind of talent luxury with the Browns.

That Bills’ defensive line quartet produced 41 of the club’s 57 sacks (the Browns had 40 overall) with Mario Williams leading the way with 13. The extremely talented Alonso burst into the NFL landscape with 159 tackles this past season, third most in the NFL. The Browns’ D’Qwell Jackson was seventh with 141.

Pettine’s passion for the Cleveland job obviously stemmed from Haslam’s commitment to winning. He noting how upbeat, energetic and passionate the owner was during their interviews. All well and good. Right now, those are only words. The right words for sure, but words nonetheless.

All he has to do now is take those words and somehow translate them into Haslam’s goal of winning football. If he can do that, then Mike Who will become a somebody quickly and justify his selection.

But for skeptics such as yours truly, this looks like the same move Browns fans have been subjected to for the last 15 years. Until a coach comes into Cleveland and successfully turns this franchise 180 degrees, that unfortunately will always be the case.


  1. I for one hope he gets the job done. My biggest problem with this hire is, if the Browns want to win now, and I have no doubt they want a winning record this year, why did they hire a coach with no head coaching experience that has to learn on the job?

  2. Because there was no one else left. Unless you wanted someone like Mike Shanahan or Jim Schwartz or Leslie Frazier. They maneuvered themselves into a corner and this is the best they could come up with. Who else was out there that fit your criteria?

    I think the Browns are hoping his gritty approach to the game will resonate with players, especially those who play defense.

    And I think we all hope he gets the job done. But let's not let hope get in the way of reality.