By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
The Browns took a public relations beating during their 25-day head-coaching search partly because two of the 10 candidates whom they interviewed in person withdrew from consideration and another eliminated himself before a meeting took place.
Well, it turns out the guy who took the job Thursday was close to dropping out, too.
New Browns coach Mike Pettine told the Buffalo Bills’ flagship radio station Thursday that he almost removed himself from contention out of consideration for the Bills and coach Doug Marrone. Pettine served as the Bills’ defensive coordinator during the 2013 regular season, and he didn’t want to keep them guessing whether he would be back.
After Pettine’s introductory news conference Thursday, Browns CEO Joe Banner conceded that it was difficult to move on from Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Banner said the decision not to wait for a second interview with Quinn wasn’t made until Thursday. Quinn will coach against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, and Pettine didn’t want to wait until after the title game to learn his fate.
“[Waiting] was starting to wear on me these last couple of days,” Pettine said during an interview with WGR-AM 550. “I talked to Doug and it was getting to the point where I’d say, ‘Hey, if this goes on much longer, I need to pull out because it’s just not fair to the Bills.’ ”
Pettine elaborated on those comments Friday during a radio interview with one of the Browns’ flagship radio stations, 92.3 The Fan.
Did he almost bail on the search?
“It was getting there,” Pettine said. “It was just the waiting. I think it intensified. You get a little frustrated. But part of it too is I was with a lot of the Bills people down in Mobile, [Ala.], at the Senior Bowl and obviously it’s such a ripple effect if I would leave and there would be the potential of any staff members that would come with me, then the replacement for me. Would they go in-house? All those decisions that they had to make, and the longer you go on in this process, you’re losing out on potentially some good coaches that are getting hired elsewhere.
“So out of loyalty to the Bills, I did not want to put them in a bind, and that’s why that thought crossed my mind, ‘Hey, if for some reason we’re going to wait till after the Super Bowl, then that would’ve been the situation that I certainly would’ve backed out then.’ ”
Pettine interviewed with the Browns three times — Jan. 16, Tuesday and then Thursday for one hour before finalizing his contract as the franchise’s 15th full-time head coach and the seventh since 1999. Banner told beat writers Thursday that Pettine received a five-year deal, so virtually every media outlet in Northeast Ohio reported that figure. But Pettine told 92.3 The Fan it wasn’t accurate. A Browns spokesman clarified, saying that Pettine signed a four-year contract with a team option for a fifth year.
In his interview with WGR-AM 550, Pettine said he didn’t feel any pressure from the Bills to eliminate himself as a candidate. Actually, he said Marrone, who interviewed with the Browns last year before they hired Rob Chudzinski, helped him prepare for his meetings with Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam.
Still, Pettine became anxious, and the Browns elected not to wait for Quinn. NFL rules would’ve permitted him to interview with the Browns no later than Sunday, though they would not have been allowed to strike a deal to hire him until after the Super Bowl.
Banner said there were two finalists for the job, and he spoke as if they were Pettine and Quinn.
“I think we felt that we knew [Quinn] well enough to make the comparison,” Banner said. “That was a tough decision frankly. He’s an outstanding guy, an outstanding coach. There’s no doubt in our mind that he’ll be an excellent head coach, so that was a tough call. But in the end, we felt we knew him well enough and had the chance to spend time with Mike, went ahead and made the decision. That’s probably the toughest decision because there’s no doubt we were very impressed with [Quinn] in the interview. He’s going to be a head coach. He’s going to be an outstanding head coach. He’s got a lot of people around the league that think very highly of him, but in the end, we decided to move forward.”
Banner said if the Browns believed Quinn would have been “likely to be prevail, we would not like to have taken 10 more days of the pummeling [from the media and fans], but we would’ve waited.”
On Thursday, Quinn told Seattle reporters he had good interviews with the Browns and Minnesota Vikings, who also decided not to wait for him and hired Mike Zimmer. Advancing to the Super Bowl might have hurt his chances to become a head coach this year, but Quinn insisted that he didn’t have any frustration about the way it all panned out.
“None. No, certainly not,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more fired up to be a part of this and moving forward here keeping the focus on our team, which it is. So none at all.”
If Pettine would’ve taken himself out of the search, he would’ve joined New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. McDaniels and Bowles dropped out after interviewing with the Browns, though McDaniels eventually circled back and talked to the team again this week.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase crossed his name off the Browns’ wish list without interviewing. A chess match between Gase and Quinn will be featured in the Super Bowl.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.