BEREA: The Browns halted their long, grueling search for a head coach Thursday afternoon by hiring Mike Pettine and delivering some “blunt force trauma” to Cleveland.
The son of a high school football coaching legend in Pennsylvania who shares his name, Pettine has never been a head coach in the NFL. But the Browns’ bigwigs have no doubt he’ll be able to command the troops with his tough approach.
“I have been nicknamed BFT — Blunt Force Trauma,” Pettine said after his introductory news conference. “The days are too short to dance around subjects sometime, and I think guys appreciate that.”
The hire ended a marathon that began the night of Dec. 29, when owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired coach Rob Chudzinski after he went 4-12 during his first season on the job. In the end, Haslam and Banner picked Pettine, who wasn’t scared off by Chudzinski’s quick dismissal after discussing it with the brass.
“I’ll bet on myself,” Pettine said. “I don’t want to get involved and back away from a job because of lack of perceived security.”
Pettine, 47, seemingly came out of nowhere and surfaced in the third week of the search, interviewing with the team for the first time Jan. 16. Haslam and Banner insisted Pettine was on their list of candidates all along and that they actually pursued him last year as a defensive coordinator before he took the same job with the Buffalo Bills.
“I think he’ll be demanding,” Haslam said. “I think you can see the intensity. I think you can feel the toughness, and I think he’s going to be a great head coach.”
Haslam said the Browns interviewed 10 candidates in person, though three withdrew from consideration and another three took jobs elsewhere.
Resembling a pro wrestler with a shaved head and a goatee, Pettine doesn’t care that he wasn’t the Browns’ first choice for the job.
“I wasn’t going to be like, ‘Well, if I’m not the first choice then, I’m not going to take it,’ ” he said. “It’s been my lifelong dream to be an NFL head coach and however that opportunity presents itself is fine with me.”
The organization has received rampant criticism from fans and media, locally and nationally, not only for the firing of Chudzinski, but also for its subsequent drawn-out quest to replace him. Of the seven NFL teams that made coaching changes since last month, the Browns were the last to fill their vacancy.
NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported people throughout the league viewed the job as “radioactive.” The federal investigation into Haslam’s family business, Pilot Flying J, certainly could have caused some concern for candidates, too.
Still, Pettine said he made the leap of faith because of confidence in himself and the regime led by Haslam, Banner, General Manager Mike Lombardi and President Alec Scheiner.
“There’s only 32 of these jobs in the world, and these opportunities don’t come along often,” Pettine said. “People ask me, ‘Why didn’t you wait? There will be chances next year.’ I don’t know if I believe in that. I looked at the situation as when you put all of the factors together, this franchise is in position, given the right leadership, to win.”
Pettine, who spent this season as the Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator and the previous four years in the same role with the New York Jets, flew to Cleveland on Thursday afternoon and became the only candidate known to interview three times. He then wrapped up the hourlong meeting by signing a five-year contract to become the franchise’s 15th full-time head coach and the seventh since 1999.
He knows many fans doubt he’ll be able to lead a turnaround, and he won’t be able to win them over with words.
“This is a bottom-line business, and it’s all about winning,” Pettine said. “I’m not into winning press conferences.”
Pettine said he expects to call the Browns’ defensive plays this year, though Banner said his aggressive philosophies about offense were key to his hiring as well.
He helped the Jets’ defense rank first in the NFL in 2009, third in 2010, fifth in 2011 and eighth in 2012. The Jets went to back-to-back AFC Championship Games during their first two seasons with Pettine and coach Rex Ryan aboard.
This season, Pettine proved he could guide a successful defense without Ryan by his side. Using a 3-4, hybrid scheme that should mesh well with the Browns’ personnel, the Bills ranked 10th (333.4 yards allowed per game) in the NFL and finished second in sacks (57) and interceptions (23). The defense finished fourth against the pass (204.4 yards allowed per game) but 28th against the run (128.9 yards allowed per game). The Bills finished 6-10.
The Browns have suffered double-digit losses in each of the past six seasons, so Pettine must spearhead a change in culture.
“Having spent time in Baltimore, to compete in the AFC North, you have to be willing to bloody your nose a little bit,” said Pettine, who got his first NFL job with the Ravens in 2002. “I think that’s the mentality that we’re going to take here. This team is going to be built on toughness. Most people think of toughness in just the physical sense. I think as important or more important is the mental toughness, is the ability to think through things when they aren’t going well, to hang tough when things go bad, that the heads don’t drop and that [players don’t think it’s the] same old Browns, and teams talk themselves into losing.”
Banner said the Browns narrowed their search down to two finalists. Although Banner declined to reveal the other candidate, he spoke as if it was defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who’ll coach the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2. Banner conceded the Browns were still thinking Thursday about trying to interview Quinn a second time. NFL rules stipulate they could’ve interviewed him no later than Sunday, but they would’ve had to wait until after the Super Bowl to strike an agreement.
“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.”
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.