By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
New Browns coach Mike Pettine set up a reunion for ex-Buffalo Bills assistants and graduates of his alma mater in one fell swoop.
Pettine hired five new assistant coaches and retained three others from the previous staff, the Browns announced Monday. The list of moves were headlined by Pettine adding former Bills linebackers coach Jim O’Neil as his defensive coordinator and retaining special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
Of the five new assistants, four of them are coming from Buffalo, where Pettine spent the 2013 season as the Bills’ defensive coordinator. They are O’Neil, linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach, secondary coach Jeff Hafley and assistant linebackers coach Brian Fleury.
Two of the five — O’Neil, 35, and Driesbach, 61 — attended Central Bucks High School West in Doylestown, Pa., where they played football for Pettine’s father, coaching legend Mike Pettine Sr. The younger Pettine, 47, was an all-state quarterback and defensive back for his dad’s team before graduating from C.B. West in 1984.
The Browns also named former Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant Brian Angelichio, 41, as their new tight ends coach, even though they have yet to hire an offensive coordinator. Whoever becomes the offense’s play-caller will ultimately be identified as Pettine’s most important hire because he’s a defensive-minded coach.
The Browns also retained assistant secondary coach Bobby Babich, 30, who spent his first season with the team last year, as well as assistant special teams coach Shawn Mennenga, 43.
Mennenga is the right-hand man of Tabor, 42. The two have been with the Browns since 2011.
The Browns announced Pettine’s first wave of hires under unusual circumstances.
Shortly after 3:30 p.m. Monday, Bills coach Doug Marrone spoke during an introductory news conference for new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who’s replacing Pettine. In a moment of transparency foreign to most NFL coaches, Marrone said he expected O’Neil, Hafley, 34, and Fleury, 34, to join the Browns and listed their new titles.
At 7:50 p.m. Monday, the Browns made their announcement.
It’s not surprising that Pettine is bringing several familiar faces to Cleveland. He plans to call the defense’s plays this year, so he wants to surround himself with coaches who already know his 3-4, hybrid system.
Pettine could benefit greatly from having a trustworthy lieutenant like O’Neil helping him construct game plans. After all, the two have been joined at the hip throughout their careers, not just last year in Buffalo. Pettine was the New York Jets’ defensive coordinator from 2009-12, when O’Neil coached the Jets’ defensive backs.
Pettine could eventually turn the play-calling duties over to O’Neil, but he doesn’t plan on doing so during the 2014 season.
“Very similar to what Rex [Ryan] and I did in New York,” Pettine said Thursday after his introductory news conference. “He called it the first year and then turned it over after that. I have a feeling it will be similar. For lack of a better analogy, training wheels. When I feel comfortable taking them off, take them off.”
Like O’Neil, Driesbach has a long history with Pettine. Driesbach was a defensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh from 1993-96, and Pettine served as a defensive graduate assistant coach for the Panthers from 1993-94.
The two reunited last year when Driesbach took a job with the Bills after spending 36 years in the college ranks. However, Marrone fired Driesbach on Jan. 13. Many were surprised by the move because of the success linebacker Kiko Alonso had as a rookie under Driesbach’s guidance.
“They just wanted to change the dynamic of the staff and they had to let me go,” Driesbach told Tom Moore of the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times the night he was fired. “[Marrone] said I hadn’t done anything wrong, shook my hand and I walked out of the office.
“I have no idea what happened. I don’t know if they felt like I did a [poor] job or somebody better became available. I don’t know and probably never will. It’s the bad part of the business.”
Three days after Driesbach’s dismissal, on Jan. 16, the Bills hired Hafley, who spent the previous two seasons coaching defensive backs for the Buccaneers. Less than two weeks passed before Pettine lured Hafley from one new job to another with the Browns.
Pettine might not be done poaching from the Bills, either. Marrone said he doesn’t “feel good about” defensive line coach Anthony Weaver staying with the Bills. So Weaver could be a target of the Browns.
Meanwhile, Pettine’s search for an offensive coordinator continues.
Despite the Dallas Cowboys hiring former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan as their play-caller, the team won’t let Bill Callahan, who called the plays last season, out of his contract, according to reports that surfaced Monday. Callahan had been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Browns’ offensive coordinator opening.
Ex-Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and Chicago Bears quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh remain possibilities.
The Baltimore Ravens introduced former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak as their offensive coordinator Monday. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Browns were interested in Kubiak but he wanted a little more power over the offense than the franchise was willing to give him.
Former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan interviewed for the Ravens’ offensive coordinator gig, but he won’t be joining the organization, according to reports. Rapoport wrote the following on Twitter Monday: “Shanahan could be in the mix in Cleveland.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.