CLEVELAND - As Browns coach Mike Pettine looks at the unknowns facing the 2014 seasons, he can start by looking in a mirror.
Pettine hasn't been in the lead role since coaching North Penn High School in 2001. Looking a bunch of teenage boys in the face is about as far a culture experience as there can be for a NFL coach. You can be a dictator coaching in high school. The same approach in the NFL will lead to a label of not being a players' coach and, most likely, a short tenure.
Since accepting the post Jan. 23, Pettine has won most of his press conferences, which he said wasn't a goal on that snowy day. He walked through the minefield of the most-celebrated quarterback competition in the NFL without any explosions (although he has taken heat for mishandling practice repetitions and game reps).
Now Pettine is on the verge of leading the Browns into their 16th season since returning to the NFL in 1999. No one knows for sure how he'll react on game days. Will the game fly over his head (a la former coach Pat Shurmur)? Will he be a motivator in the locker room with fire-and-brimstone speeches?
"I expect to see kind of a really good, level-headed coach on the sideline whose into the game and he knows exactly when the timeouts should be taken and when to go for it," offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. "He's kind of doing a great job of managing the game. I think that's what you want as a head coach."
It's safe to assume that Pettine has won the locker room with what appears to be an even-handed approach. He didn't pull an Eric Mangini (the Browns coach in 2009-10) and make players run laps for committing a penalty, although he adopted a Mangini practice of mixing the locker assignments on a random basis instead of grouping players together at like positions.
Pettine tipped his hand as to how his sideline demeanor will be during the four preseason games. He seemed relaxed and unemotional. It mirrored his practice manner of standing back and letting the assistants do the coaching while he observed.
That will likely change with the first bad play Sunday in Heinz Field. What happens from then on is what separates the good coaches from the bad ones.
Thomas is confident that management made the right call. He felt good vibes from the first day he met Pettine.
"I didn't know him, just like most of the guys in this locker room," Thomas said. "Obviously we played against his defense a few times with the Jets and Buffalo Bills. As soon as I got to meet him, I knew he was the real deal. He's done a great job of getting us ready for where we are at this point in the season, and I'm excited to see how the season goes."
Thomas should be an expert on reading head coaches. Pettine is the fifth coach he's played for since being drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft. Thomas has an eye for seeing through failed regimes.
"He has an excellent plan," Thomas said. "The first thing that comes across is he knows how he wants to get things done. He's going to do a great job of communicating his message."
Cornerback Joe Haden likes Pettine because of the coach's belief that you can never have enough good defensive backs (12 are on the roster).
"He likes the defensive side of the ball," Haden said. "At practice you can see he's into the defense, and that helps out a lot."
After all the changes of the past, veterans like Thomas and Haden simply want continuity with the coaching staff. Thomas has played for six offensive coordinators.
"It certainly hurts when you have different offenses every year," Thomas said. "Drew Brees down in New Orleans; they're not installing their day-one plays the first day of training camp. They're already talking about details from the year before.
"It's important to not get frustrated because it's out of our control. If we get a new offense, then we have to learn a new offense. Hopefully this is the last one."