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Time is of the essence as Browns close in on a choice between Buffalo's Mike Pettine or -- two weeks from now -- Seattle's Dan Quinn

Jan 22, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USA Today

The Morning Kickoff …

Getting defensive: Last year the apple of the Browns’ eye was offensive coaches.

Chip Kelly. Bill O’Brien. Doug Marrone. Ken Whisenhunt. Marc Trestman. They also interviewed defensive coaches Ray Horton and Mike Zimmer. Ultimately, they settled on Rob Chudzinski, lauding him for his offensive creativity. They paired him up with coordinator Norv Turner and the rest was … um, history.

One year later, the Browns’ coaching search is coming down to a choice of defensive coaches.

Although there are a few other candidates still alive, the Browns appear to be zeroing in on either Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine or Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Pettine received a second interview last night in Mobile, AL, site of the Senior Bowl. It lasted approximately five hours. Because all the Browns’ bigwigs made the trip down – owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner, President Alec Scheiner and GM Mike Lombardi – Cleveland and Buffalo media were bracing for the white smoke to signal a coach had been hired.

A report out of Buffalo that a deal was “close” was labeled premature by a league source.

It would have been a panic-stricken move to hire Pettine, anyway, without giving Quinn a second interview.

Unlike Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who officially withdrew from consideration earlier in the day, Quinn appears willing to listen to the Browns’ overtures.

How could the Browns hire Pettine, who completed his first year as defensive coordinator of the 6-10 Bills, without exhausting all avenues with Quinn, who is preparing the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense to go against Denver’s top-ranked offense in Super Bowl 48 on Feb. 2?

They couldn’t, and wouldn’t. Would they?

The letter: Haslam’s letter released through the club last week asked fans for patience during their “purposefully … methodical approach” to finding their next coach.

In part, Haslam wrote, “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.”

The Browns may have exited Mobile Tuesday night to meet Quinn for his second interview. NFL rules permit a second interview with Quinn no later than Sunday of the Super Bowl bye week.

If they feel Quinn is the guy, the Browns would have to wait until Feb. 3 to even offer the job.

Quinn then would be hard-pressed to assemble a coaching staff at that late date. But whether the Seahawks win or lose the Super Bowl, at least the Browns could sell Quinn as the reigning top defensive assistant coach in the NFL.

Surely, Banner and Lombardi would have the spreadsheet evidence to point to defensive coaches being the best candidates for head coach. Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Denver’s John Fox both were defensive specialists before ascending to the head coach ranks.

Offense was the rage last year. This year it’s defense. Always at the front of the curve, these Browns.

Welcome to Mobile: If nothing else, at least the rush to interview Pettine took Lombardi to the center of the NFL universe – if only for a few hours.

Until Banner and Lombardi arrived on Tuesday night, assistant GM Ray Farmer was the highest-ranking member of the Browns taking in the Senior Bowl workouts. Lombardi wasn’t the only NFL GM missing – Miami still hasn’t hired one – but given Haslam’s declaration that this is “the critical offseason for the Browns,” it was odd that Lombardi took that long to get to Mobile.

Earlier in the day, Phil Savage, the former Browns GM who now is executive director of the Senior Bowl, explained, “When you don’t have a coach in place, that is such an all-encompassing, time-consuming ordeal, that it’s really hard to focus on anything else until you get the person in the chair.”

Still, in 2012, then-Browns GM Tom Heckert missed the Senior Bowl because of health problems. Last year, Lombardi did not attend the entire week of workouts, and an awful first draft was the result.

“So the same team’s had two different GMs that have missed at least portions of the Senior Bowl week. I’d say that’s pretty rare,” Savage said.

On top of that, of course, the Browns don’t have a coaching staff prowling the Senior Bowl practices and interviewing players after hours. This is the first step in the 2014 draft process and there is much more to come. But already the Browns are way behind.

“The draft has been pushed back,” Savage pointed out. “But it is May 8, not July 8.”

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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