By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
A year ago the Browns named the offensive coordinator of a 7-9 team their head coach.
Rob Chudzinski, late of the Carolina Panthers, proceeded to go 4-12 and was fired.
On Thursday, the Browns are naming the defensive coordinator of a 6-10 team to replace him.
Twenty-five days into their second coaching search in 13 months, the Browns will introduce Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as the man to lead them through what they have termed “the crucial offseason” of the franchise. The Browns will hold a 4:45 p.m. press conference to introduce Pettine.
When they launched this search on Dec. 30, owner Jimmy Haslam said, “We want an individual who is a strong winner who knows how to win football games.”
Like Chudzinski, Pettine, 47, has never been a head coach at the college or NFL level. He earned rave reviews in his first season as Buffalo defensive coordinator under first-year head coach coach Doug Marrone in 2013. The Bills were second in sacks with 57 and second in interceptions with 23 and developed linebacker Kiko Alonso into a top defensive rookie.
But just 13 years ago – three years into the Browns' expansion era – Pettine was still coaching a high school team in Towamencin Township, PA. He was successful enough to be considered almost a local legend in the prep ranks.
Pettine broke into the NFL as an entry-level assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, helping on defense and in the video department. In 2002, Pettine began to rise through their ranks under then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. He coached Baltimore’s linebackers for four seasons beginning in 2005. When Ryan moved on to the New York Jets as head coach in 2009, he took Pettine and made him defensive coordinator.
In four seasons, the Jets finished in the top 10 in overall defense each year. Pettine’s defense powered the team to two appearances in the AFC Championship Game. But it was always considered Ryan’s defense.
Pettine decided to leave the Jets after 2012 to escape the large, domineering shadow of Ryan and enlarge his resume. It was a wise move because it accelerated to Thursday’s appointment as the Browns’ 15th full-time head coach – and its seventh since they were reborn in expansion in 1999.
While Pettine’s eventual hiring became almost a foregone conclusion as the Browns’ search proceeded – he was interviewed three times – it still ranks as one of the more improbable rises in Browns’ annals.
When the search committee appears in front of media Thursday afternoon – Haslam, CEO Joe Banner, GM Mike Lombardi and President Alec Scheiner – it will be posed with several questions that made this a bizarre coaching search in the eyes of many.
* Why didn’t the team wait to interview Dan Quinn, the Super Bowl-bound defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks who reportedly was open to interviewing a second time before departing for Super Bowl 48 on Sunday?
A week ago, Haslam released a letter to fans calling for patience and explaining the team intended all along to wait for candidates whose teams were involved in the playoffs.
* Why did the team reach out this week to New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who previously withdrew from consideration?
McDaniels was considered by some national NFL insiders as the Browns’ No. 1 choice.
* Why did the Browns wait so long to interview Pettine when he was available right after the Bills’ season ended?
* And who will Pettine be able to hire to head his offensive staff at this late date?
It’s no secret the Browns will position themselves for one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL draft on May 8. They have been pegged by almost all the draftniks to be the team hottest after Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Possibilities to be Pettine’s offensive coordinator have been reported to be Kyle Shanahan, recently fired from the same position with the Washington Redskins; Cam Cameron, former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator; Gary Kubiak, recently fired as Houston Texans head coach; and Alex Van Pelt, Green Bay running backs coach.
Most of the Browns assistant coaches under Chudzinski have accepted jobs elsewhere, including offensive coordinator Norv Turner (now with Minnesota) and defensive coordinator Ray Horton (Tennessee).
In this search, the Browns interviewed at least nine other candidates besides Pettine. They were:
McDaniels; Quinn; Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles; former San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt; former Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo; former Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak; Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koettner; Dallas special teams coach Rich Bisaccia; and former Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano.
McDaniels and Bowles withdrew from consideration. Whisenhunt was named head coach at Tennessee, McAdoo was named offensive coordinator of the Giants, and Munchak was named offensive line coach at Pittsburgh.
Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who was considered a co-frontrunner with McDaniels, opted not to interview with the Browns.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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