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A look back: Mike Pettine is the fourth Browns coach in a row to come from a losing team

Jan 28, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi |


The Morning Kickoff …

A band of brothers: If you’re keeping track, Mike Pettine is the seventh full-time head coach of the Browns in 15 years. There were eight in the first 49 years of the franchise before the 1996-98 interruption resulting from Art Modell’s end run to Baltimore.

Since 1999, the Browns have hired all kinds of coaches trying to find the one to make them winners – young and old, black and white, offensive and defensive, NFL coordinator and college head coach, recycled and (mostly) first-timer.

For the record, Butch Davis has been their best head coach since 1999. He changed the culture of a 5-27 rag-tag expansion team and coaxed it to the only playoff appearance in this new era in only his second season.

As Pettine puts the finishing touches on his coaching staff, here is a look back at the men who preceeded him.

1. Chris Palmer, 1999-2000.

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: Brian Billick (Ravens), Gunther Cunningham (Chiefs), Mike Riley (Chargers), George Seifert (Panthers), Dick Jauron (Bears), Ray Rhodes (Packers), Andy Reid (Eagles), Mike Holmgren (Seahawks).

Playing background: Quarterback in high school and at Southern Connecticut State University.

Age when hired: 49.

Immediate previous position: Offensive coordinator under Tom Coughlin with Jacksonville Jaguars.

Coordinators: Offense – Himself (1999), Pete Carmichael (2000); Defense – Bob Slowik (1999), Romeo Crennell (2000).

Analysis: When the Browns re-started after their three-year hiatus, nobody of note wanted the job. After the instant success of 1995 expansion teams Jacksonville and Carolina, the NFL clamped down on expansion perks for the Browns and rushed to get a team on the field for the 1999 season. Palmer was President Carmen Policy’s fourth or fifth choice and was a square peg forced in a round hole. The 49ers-heavy influence clashed with Palmer’s roots in the Bill Parcells’ system.

Record: 5-27.

2. Butch Davis, 2001-04

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: Gregg Williams (Bills), Dick Vermeil (Chiefs), Herman Edwards (Jets), Marty Mornhinweg (Lions), Mike Tice (Vikings), Marty Schottenhimer (Redskins).

Playing background: Fullback and defensive end in high school, defensive end at University of Arkansas.

Immediate previous position: Head coach at University of Miami.

Age when hired: 49.

Coordinators: Offense – Bruce Arians (2001-03), Terry Robiskie (2004). Defense – Foge Fazio (2001-02), Dave Campo (2003-04).

Analysis: A prize catch from the college ranks with NFL experience, Davis took a 5-27 team and went 7-9 and 9-7 his first two seasons, qualifying as a wild card in the second year. The turning point came when owner Al Lerner passed away during the 2002 season. Davis seized upon the resulting power vacuum and positioned himself as the next Jimmy Johnson. He stumbled badly over his ego and proved he was a far better coach than general manager.

Record: 24-35.

(Note: After Davis resigned/was fired, Robiskie was 1-4 as interim coach.)

3. Romeo Crennel, 2005-08

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: Nick Saban (Dolphins), Mike Nolan (49ers).

Playing background: Defensive line in high school, defensive line and offensive line one year at Western Kentucky University.

Immediate previous position: Defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick with New England Patriots.

Age when hired: 57.

Coordinators: Offense – Maurice Carthon (2005-06), Rob Chudzinski (2007-08). Defense – Todd Grantham (2005-07), Mel Tucker Jr. (2008).

Analysis: As Randy Lerner assumed the burden of ownership, Policy exited to start a winery in Napa Valley, CA. The NFL sought to help Lerner build an organization by providing him league marketing executive John Collins as president and encouraging him to hire Crennel as coach. GM Phil Savage had no role in Crennel’s hiring, but he did bring in Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator in Crennel’s third season, resulting in a 10-6 non-playoff season. Lerner wiped everyone out one bad year later.

Record: 24-40.

4. Eric Mangini, 2009-10

Playing background: Linebacker in high school, nose tackle at Wesleyan University.

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: Josh McDaniels (Broncos), Jim Caldwell (Colts), Todd Haley (Chiefs), Rex Ryan (Jets), Jim Schwartz (Lions), Steve Spagnuolo (Rams), Jim Mora Jr. (Seahawks), Raheem Morris (Buccaneers).

Immediate previous position: Head coach of New York Jets.

Age when hired: 37.

Coordinators: Offense – Brian Daboll (2009-10). Defense – Rob Ryan (2009-10).

Analysis: Announcing Crennel’s firing in a media roundtable conference, Lerner was informed that Mangini had been fired moments earlier by the Jets. Lerner immediately left the room and set up a job interview. Mangini was hired a week later and was permitted to hire his own GM. Mangini chose George Kokinis, whom he had known since his 20s as Browns go-fers in the Belichick years. That pairing lasted eight games before Lerner fired Kokinis and set out to hire a “credible football leader.” Mike Holmgren came in and fired Mangini after his second 5-11 season.

Record: 10-22.

5. Pat Shurmur, 2011-12

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: John Fox (Broncos), Hue Jackson (Raiders), Mike Munchak (Titans), Ron Rivera (Panthers), Jim Harbaugh (49ers).

Playing background: Offensive line in high school; guard, linebacker and center at Michigan State.

Immediate previous position: Offensive coordinator under Steve Spagnuolo with St. Louis Rams.

Age when hired: 45.

Coordinators: Offense – Himself (2011), Brad Childress (2012). Defense – Dick Jauron (2011-12).

Analysis: In a tip-off to his lax work ethic, Holmgren interviewed only three candidates – one being the required minority – before giving the job to Shurmur, the nephew of Holmgren’s late friend and defensive assistant with Green Bay, Fritz Shurmur. On the first day of Pat Shurmur’s second training camp, the franchise was rocked when the Lerner family reached a purchase agreement to sell the club to Tennessee travel center and diesel fuel mogul Jimmy Haslam.

Record: 9-23

6. Rob Chudzinski, 2013

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: Doug Marrone (Bills), Andy Reid (Chiefs), Gus Bradley (Jaguars), Mike McCoy (Chargers), Chip Kelly (Eagles), Bruce Arians (Cardinals), Marc Trestman (Bears).

Playing background: Tight end in high school and at University of Miami.

Immediate previous job: Offensive coordinator under Ron Rivera with Carolina Panthers.

Age when hired: 44.

Coordinators: Offense – Norv Turner (2013). Defense – Ray Horton (2013).

Analysis: When Haslam appointed Joe Banner CEO and Mike Lombardi GM, it severely limited the hiring pool because few candidates were willing to rely on Banner and Lombardi to control the roster. The Browns were rejected by Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien and Doug Marrone before they called on Chudzinski, the Toledo native, lifetime Browns fan and twice-previous Browns assistant coach. After one disappointing season in which three quarterbacks started and were injured, Chudzinski was fired.

Record: 4-12.

7. Mike Pettine, 2014.

Other NFL head coaches hired same year: Bill O’Brien (Texans), Ken Whisenhunt (Titans), Jim Caldwell (Lions), Mike Zimmer (Vikings), Lovie Smith (Buccaneers), Jay Gruden (Redskins).

Playing background: Quarterback for his dad’s high school team and free safety at University of Virginia.

Immediate previous job: Defensive coordinator under Doug Marrone with the Buffalo Bills.

Age when hired: 47.

Coordinators: Offense – to be determined. Defense – Jim O’Neil.

Analysis: For the second year in a row, Haslam, Banner & Co. settled for less than their first choice. After a 25-day coaching search that saw three candidates back out or decline to be interviewed and two others accept other jobs, Pettine was tabbed. He was the fourth consecutive coach to come to the Browns from a losing team.

Record: 0-0.


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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