INDIANAPOLIS: New Browns coach Mike Pettine insists he doesn’t give a bleep about ProFootballTalk.com’s report that the organization tried to trade for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh before it hired Pettine on Jan. 23.
Pettine, though, made it clear Saturday morning during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium that he does care very much about remaining unfazed no matter how much chaos he encounters as a first-time NFL head coach. So far, he’s faced a ton of it.
On Feb. 11, owner Jimmy Haslam fired CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi, a close friend of Harbaugh, and promoted Ray Farmer to GM, giving him control of football operations as well as the 53-man roster.
Then the stunning report about Harbaugh that surfaced Friday evening indicated that Pettine was further down on the Browns’ wish list than originally thought. The coaching search Haslam and Banner conducted in the wake of firing Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 included at least a dozen candidates and finally ended after 25 days.
Browns director of communications Zak Gilbert alerted Pettine before the stunning report surfaced.
“When I got the phone call, I did a little bit of shoot the messenger,” Pettine said. “I said, ‘How does this affect my tenure as the Cleveland Browns head coach? Has that changed?’ The obvious answer was ‘no.’
“I think my next sentence, I either used the word ‘flying’ followed by something, or referenced a part of a rat’s body. I think that’s noise. That’s something that has no bearing on my job moving forward.
“As far as how it affects me and my approach to how I’m going to coach this football team and how we are moving forward, [it] has zero effect.”
According to ProFootballTalk.com’s report, a deal that would have sent multiple draft picks to the 49ers was in place between them and the Browns, but Harbaugh ultimately decided not to leave San Francisco.
The Browns are not denying the report, even though 49ers CEO Jed York did via Twitter on Friday night and Harbaugh told CSN Bay Area, “I know nothing about a trade with the Cleveland Browns and us involving me.”
Pettine, 47, spoke as if the report is true.
“When you look at it, it shows that the [Browns] organization is committed to getting it turned around, that it would investigate that option,” Pettine said. “I see that as a positive.”
But he also acknowledged such news can be a distraction.
“A big part of being an NFL head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions,” Pettine said. “Just add that one to the list.”
There have been plenty of shocking developments involving the Browns since Haslam became owner in October 2012. As a result, there seems to be more noise in Cleveland than other NFL cities.
“That is potentially an accurate statement,” Pettine said. “I’d like to think it’s going to get quiet. That’s my goal, is to quiet the noise. The sooner I get off this podium and can [watch the workouts at the combine] and start evaluating players and see if we can find some future Cleveland Browns, the better. I know a lot’s happened. But it’s my goal to get the staff that I’ve hired moving forward that we can quiet things down and go about the business of winning football games.
“I told the staff we’re behind in our first staff meeting, that they needed to understand the magnitude of the job we were taking on. Anytime you’re trying to turn a franchise around, you have to be extraordinary. I put up a PowerPoint slide: Since 1991 the Browns have had two playoff appearances and have won one playoff game, and in those 23 years, there’s been 141 [head and assistant] coaches. The challenge for them was how are we going to be different?”
With everything he has endured in his first month on the job, has Pettine wondered what he got himself into?
“No, because that’s negative,” said Pettine, who coached high school football in Pennsylvania before he entered the NFL as a video assistant for the Baltimore Ravens in 2002 and went on to earn defensive coordinator gigs with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. “To me, this is a dream come true. ... There’s so much negative. You can get overwhelmed by it. I don’t see it that way. I know I’m very blessed to be here, that my path was different, and I think that’s helped motivate me. I’m the proverbial guy from the mailroom.”
Pettine believes the Browns will be able to subdue negativity if he can spread his attitude to others in the organization.
“My job as a head coach is to build a work atmosphere where guys are like me — they can’t wait to get to work in the morning,” Pettine said. “We’re going to have to be that way. I’m not going to rule with an iron fist. It’s going to be positive.
“That’s my job as a head coach, to make sure everybody has what they need to be successful. I’m a big fan of the servant-leadership model. What can I do to help you do your job? My coaches are going to get tired of me asking. That’s my job to remove those obstacles.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.