New Browns coach, new hope
BEREA – Mike Pettine barely had time to enjoy the moment of becoming the 15th full-time coach in Browns’ history before he had to deal with his first bit of controversy.
The ink hadn’t even dried on his contract when Pettine’s daughter Megan sent out a tweet about her father’s big day. The final words read: “Its (sic) the Browns, but hey … still pretty cool!”
Pettine, who sports a shaved head that projects the image of an Army sergeant, quickly contacted Megan to smooth out matters. He now includes her as one of his fans as he begins his first head-coaching job in the NFL.
“We had a very long father-daughter chat,” Pettine said. “She learned a very valuable lesson in the power of social media. Let’s not forget where she came from. Her formative years were spent in Baltimore, where she was trained to not be a Browns fan.”
Pettine, who filled many roles as an assistant for the Baltimore Ravens from 2002-08, needs to do more than just win the support of family members. That’s the easy part. The difficult task will be to convince long-suffering fans that he will finally put an end to the instability that has turned the Browns coaching job into one of the least attractive posts in the NFL.
Considering recent history, it appears to be an unreasonable goal. Just ask recent coach Rob Chudzinski, who was fired after a 4-12 record in his one and only season at the helm.
The number of full-time head coaches the Browns have had since joining the All-American Football Conference as a charter member in 1946 doesn’t seem that high considering the 58 years (55 seasons) of their existence. The fact that seven of those coaches have been hired since the franchise’s return to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999 is another matter.
Cleveland has become a place where coaching careers start to die. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows that, which is why he twice spurned efforts of the Browns to entice him out of his comfort zone as Bill Belichick’s right-hand man.
The difference between Pettine and McDaniels is that the latter has one strike against him – a 28-game stint as coach of the Denver Broncos. Few coaches get more than two chances to head a team, which means McDaniels has to be careful where he calls home for his next chance.
Pettine wasn’t as choosy. Once the Browns showed an interest, he was more than willing to take the plunge for a five-year deal that will make him a rich man, even if he’s not around to finish out the contract.
Pettine looked beyond all the warts and saw an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. While outsiders see a franchise that appears to be teetering on the edge of self-destruction, Pettine saw passion and dedication through his rose-colored glasses.
“Confidence in the information that I gathered about how committed this franchise is to winning and the confidence in myself,” Pettine said. “There are only 32 of these jobs in the world, and these opportunities don’t come along often. People ask me, ‘Why didn’t you wait and there will be chances next year?’
“I don’t know if I believe in that. When you put all the factors together, this franchise is in the right position, given the right leadership, to win.”
First-time head coaches tend to be idealistic. In Pettine’s case, he’s put blind faith into an organization that is wrought with instability.
Owner James Haslam is still dealing with a federal probe into his Pilot Flying J business because of a rebate scam. CEO Joe Banner comes off as a control freak who oversteps into football operations, and general manager Michael Lombardi never shows his face because of a sordid history with the Browns from his time here in the 1990s.
Maybe Pettine is on to something. Perhaps this organization that has been portrayed as stooge-like has turned a corner and is on the right path.
“The perception is something that you all (in the media) have generated,” Haslam said. “That’s not the perception among the candidates and it’s not the perception among football people that I talk to around the country. They talk about birthplace of football; great fan base. They talk about cap space; young roster; five Pro Bowlers; 10 draft picks; three of the first 35. The perception that’s been created out there is not reality.”
There are plenty of disgruntled season-ticket holders that would disagree.