By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
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Browns owner Jimmy Haslam released a letter Wednesday morning to season-ticket holders and the media, updating fans on the search for the team’s seventh full-time head coach since 1999 and defending the organization’s approach amid rampant criticism.
Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired coach Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 after the Browns went 4-12 during Chudzinski’s first season on the job. Since then, fans and pundits have ripped the franchise for its drawn-out search partly because two candidates have withdrawn from the running and two more have accepted jobs with other teams. All of this is fueling the perception that coaches don’t want to work for the Browns in the wake of Chudzinski’s abrupt dismissal. NFL Network’s Albert Breer wrote on Twitter this past weekend that the job is viewed as “radioactive.”
Of the seven NFL teams who fired a head coach in the past month, only the Browns have yet to fill their vacancy. Haslam’s letter was released before news broke Wednesday about the Minnesota Vikings hiring Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as their coach, leaving the Browns as the only team with an opening.
But as Haslam explains in the letter, the Browns have chosen to wait to interview an assistant or assistants who are still in the playoffs before wrapping up their search. For example, they’re expected to interview Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, a perceived front-runner to land the job, once his team has finished the postseason, a source confirmed, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the search.
The Browns could interview Gase as early as Sunday night or Monday if the Broncos fall to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, which is set for 3 p.m. Sunday. But if the Broncos win and advance to the Super Bowl, the Browns would need to wait until Feb. 3, the day after the title game, to meet with him.
Until then, the Browns will continue to explore other options. They will interview Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine on Thursday for their head-coaching vacancy, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported Wednesday. The Bills confirmed the report.
Pettine, 47, spent this past season with the Bills after serving as the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator the previous four years. Under his guidance, the Bills used a 4-3 scheme and finished the 2013 regular season with the NFL’s 10th-ranked defense (333.4 yards allowed per game). With Pettine in charge of the Jets’ defense, it ranked first in 2009, third in 2010, fifth in 2011 and eighth in 2012.
Haslam and Banner have interviewed six known candidates, but only two of them are still in the running: Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who’ll be part of the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night, and former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles withdrew from consideration. Former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt became the coach of the Titans, and former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo was hired as the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator.
Ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano has been mentioned as a possible candidate by 92.3 The Fan and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, though no news of an interview has surfaced.
I thought it was important to take a little bit of time to update you on our head-coach search. We have had the opportunity to speak to a number of outstanding candidates. We have purposefully been very methodical in our approach. We believe it is very important to stay disciplined to this process and to interview all of the candidates on our list. We are strongly committed to finding the right person to coach the Cleveland Browns.
We understood from the beginning that if we wanted to speak to all of the coaches on our list that we may need to wait until they have completed their participation in the playoffs. We are prepared to wait as long as necessary because this is a very important decision. Everyone in our organization is committed to finding the right leader for our team.
We believe the head coach of the Cleveland Browns to be a very attractive position. We have one of the youngest teams in the League, a roster that includes five Pro Bowlers. In addition, we have more salary-cap room than all but one NFL team. We also have three of the top 35 picks in the upcoming draft and five of the top 83 selections.
We are very much looking forward to adding a strong coach to our football team. On behalf of the Cleveland Browns, I cannot thank you enough for your valuable support and passion that you show for our team.
We look forward to communicating with you again after the search process is complete. Thank you again for your phenomenal support and loyalty.
— Jimmy Haslam
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.