BEREA: New Browns coach Mike Pettine is scrambling to assemble his staff.
But he’s not too harried to realize he needs experience at his side, perhaps hiring those with head coach on their resume.
“For any first-year coach when you’re building a staff, you would want somebody who has head-coaching experience, absolutely,” Pettine said Thursday, not long after being introduced. “I don’t know if I’d put it as a priority — I want to put the best staff together — but I think that’s a fringe benefit.”
As to whether he has to have worked with those he chooses, Pettine said, “I think the staff will have [coaches] that I’ve had connections with, but I’m not looking for someone to go to lunch with. It’s going to be all about winning.”
Pettine knows how late the Browns are getting started as they were the last of seven teams to fill their coaching opening.
“That’s not a perception, that’s absolute reality,” said Pettine, who spent the 2013 season as the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills and held the same role with the New York Jets the previous four years. “We are behind. I think as far as hiring, I think we’re in pretty good shape. A lot of things are in place or close to being in place. It’s definitely a work in progress, but that needs to be addressed immediately. As soon as I get out of this [interview] I’m going to get out this [suit] and get into sweats and get that staff built. We’re behind the rest of the league in terms of our preparation for free agency and for the draft.”
Pettine said “there is a high likelihood” he’ll retain some assistants from Rob Chudzinski’s staff, but he’ll need to find many more replacements. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton have landed other jobs. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will likely be a holdover, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported.
The Browns requested permission to interview Bills linebackers coach Jim O’Neil for their defensive coordinator job, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported. The New York Daily News reported O’Neil will get the job as long as the Bills let him out of his contract.
Regardless, Pettine expects to call the plays for the defense.
“Very similar to what Rex [Ryan] and I did in New York,” Pettine said. “He called it the first year and then turned it over after that. I have a feeling it will be similar.”
Browns CEO Joe Banner said although Pettine is a defensive coach, his aggressive ideas about offense appealed to the Browns. Nevertheless, the hiring of an offensive coordinator will be crucial. Green Bay Packers running backs coach and former Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was a candidate, but he has agreed to stay with the Packers and become their quarterbacks coach, La Canfora reported. Louisiana State offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who held the same position with the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, has also been linked to Pettine.
Pettine and his staff will be vital to evaluating this year’s draft class of quarterbacks, though the Browns will continue to employ the collaborative process they used last year when making roster decisions, with Banner wielding the ultimate authority.
Here comes Johnny?
The NFL Draft doesn’t begin until May 8, but the perception around the league is that the Browns are smitten with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, and could even trade up from No. 4 to get him.
Asked if he had a quarterback in mind and whether the new offensive coordinator needed someone of a certain skill set, Banner said, “No, the right coach should be able to work with whichever quarterback we all think is the right guy, whether he’s on the team or somebody we picked or traded for or signed in free agency.”
When it was suggested that the decision has already been made, that it’s Manziel, Banner laughed and said, “I’m not taking him off the board, but I’m definitely not saying it’s been decided.”
Mum on Bess
Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam revealed little about whether they were aware of a March 2013 incident in which wide receiver Davone Bess was involuntarily hospitalized when they made a trade with the Miami Dolphins for him a month later. The Browns also gave Bess three-year contract extension through 2016.
“I personally did not,” Haslam said when asked if he knew about Bess being hospitalized.
“The only part of that I’m going to answer is we’ve been in contact and we’re trying to do everything we can to support and help Davone through the entire process,” Banner said.
The Browns can’t cut Bess until Feb. 3, the day after the Super Bowl. Asked if he would remain on the active roster, Banner said, “He’s on our active list while we speak. I don’t anticipate that changing, but obviously at some point we’ll review that.”
Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer told the Dolphins Thursday he was declining a second interview for their vacant general manager position and remaining with the Browns. Farmer was reportedly considered the favorite, and John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance told the Miami Herald he encouraged Farmer to talk to the Dolphins again.
“Yes, Ray is staying. Double good day,” Banner said.
“I spent about an hour with him today right before lunch,” Haslam said. “He’s a good man and we’re glad to have him on our team.
“It’s a compliment to our organization that another organization wants to hire him to go from the No. 2 position to the No. 1 position. I’m really excited Ray’s staying. He’s smart, he’s focused, he’ll play a key role in this draft and in free agency.”
Farmer had been scouting prospects this week in Mobile, Ala., in advance of Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
“I’ve been calling Ray an up-and-coming star, which probably haunted us and tipped off the rest of the league how good he was, so I’ll be more careful,” Banner said. “He’s high, high character, outstanding employee and a really valuable part of our team.”
Ward, Mack ‘special’
Two Pro Bowlers, center Alex Mack and strong safety T.J. Ward, are among the Browns who are scheduled to become free agents on March 11. Pettine raved about both and said he will reach out to them soon, but he cautioned about overspending.
“A big part of being successful in the NFL is to keep your own players, guys that come up through the system,” Pettine said. “But you can’t overspend for those guys, either, just for the sake of having them. With [General Manager] Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore it was always ‘Right player, right price.’ A lot of times you might have the right player and you get priced out of it; you have the ability to say you’ve got to move on.
“But from a coaching standpoint, you always like to keep your own. Those two are special players and I would absolutely love to keep them around.”
After signing as a free agent from the New England Patriots on May 17, Brian Hoyer went 3-0 as the Browns’ starting quarterback before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Bills. Pettine praised Hoyer, even if he saw him in person last season for only seven snaps on Oct. 3.
“I think he’s a winner. I think the intangibles with Brian are off the charts,” Pettine said of Hoyer, a St. Ignatius and Michigan State graduate from North Olmsted. “I think he’s a football junkie, and I think you can tell he loves the game. He came from a system where he learned from the best in the game and that showed on the field. A lot of people based on his background kind of fall asleep on him a little bit. I think he’s a winning quarterback in this league.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.