Wanna coach Browns? Caveat emptor
Mike Pettine never banked on this when he took the job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
This, of course, is being the head coach of arguably the most dysfunctional team in the National Football League.
Being head coach of any team has its headaches, its ups and downs, its highs and lows. But in Cleveland, where a black cloud hovers perpetually over 76 Lou Groza Blvd. and turmoil roils on a seemingly daily basis, it is quite different.
Pettine naturally would much rather deal with the Xs and Os of the game and the personalities of his locker room. You know, the kind of stuff most coaches experience.
Not in Cleveland.
Instead of totally concentrating on Sunday’s game in St. Louis against the Rams, especially after coming off a hard-to-take overtime loss to the Denver Broncos, Pettine has to deal with the latest misadventure of his troubled backup quarterback.
Instead of facing questions with regard to the Rams game, he has to deal with his thoughts on Johnny Manziel’s latest dalliance with the law. He is, in essence and seemingly whether he likes it or not, the club’s spokesman on matters such as this.
General Manager Ray Farmer is nowhere in sight. Now that he is a few weeks distanced from his four-game suspension for doing something he knew he shouldn’t, he should be the spokesman in this matter, not his coach, who has enough to be concerned about without dealing with this.
And where is the owner, who purportedly made the command decision to select Manziel in the college draft that fateful night about 18 months ago? He’s the man who signs the paychecks. Where in the world is Jimmy Haslam III? He should be front and center, too.
This little problem has been dumped squarely in the lap of a man whose job security very well could be teetering in the balance given the on-the-field woes of his defense thus far this season.
Pettine, who had to deal earlier with an assistant coach who had drinking and domestic abuse problems and was subsequently cashiered, is facing the same thing again with Manziel, who was stopped by suburban Cleveland police eight days ago for alleged domestic abuse.
Manziel, who underwent 10 weeks of rehabilitation at a Pennsylvania addiction treatment center earlier this year, admitted having a couple of drinks before being stopped for driving erratically. His live-in girl friend accused him of hitting and beating her, according to a police report. She later recanted the allegations.
Instead of trying to fix what might be irretrievably damaged with his defense, Pettine is now forced to put on a totally different kind of hat. He is in the unfortunate position of defending decisions over which he has no control. He is tap dancing without a safety net.
Why, the media wants to know, was Manziel allowed to dress for last Sunday’s game against Denver if the club knew of the incident? Pettine bristled about locker room accountability. “There’s accountability,” he said. “Some accountability is public, some of it is private.”
He labeled the Manziel police report “disturbing” and made it clear the team is not finished investigating. But he cautioned the club is basically in a holding pattern until the NFL completes its own investigation into the matter. Considering the league is investigating, it’s anyone’s guess as to when it will render a decision.
Asked if the Browns had given any thought about trading Manziel, Pettine diplomatically replied, “I’m not going to discuss potential roster moves.” At least he’s being honest rather than answering the question in a non-answer manner.
So where does all this fall in the football coaching manual? What chapter covers all things not football? Pettine should not have to go through all this. But he’s doing it very well while his GM seemingly hides.
When he took the job, little did Pettine realize he was stepping, quite innocently at the time, into a quagmire of trouble with a franchise that was reborn in 1999 and has experienced nothing but grief for the last 17 years.
At the risk of sounding repetitious, he doesn’t deserve this. And if Haslam decides to once again clean out the front office and Pettine is swept out, he won’t know it at the time, but the Browns will be doing him a big favor.
Coaching a professional football team in Cleveland has become a toxic job. Mike Pettine has found that out the hard way. This is not what he banked on when he said yes at the beginning of 2014.