By Tom Withers | Associated Press
CLEVELAND -- Mike Pettine knows he might not have been Cleveland’s first choice or even the Browns’ second pick.
All that matters to the son of a high school coaching legend is that he’s the one they selected.
“It’s been my life-long dream to be an NFL head coach,” Pettine said Thursday, “and however that opportunity presents itself, it’s fine with me.”
After nearly a month of twists, turns and talk, the Browns found their man.
Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, who didn’t seem to be on Cleveland’s radar when the team began a coaching search last month, signed a five-year contract Thursday and was named the Browns’ seventh full-time coach since 1999. Pettine replaces Rob Chudzinski, fired on Dec. 29 after just one season.
The Browns interviewed 10 candidates before deciding on the 47-year-old Pettine, who has built a solid reputation with a no-nonsense approach with his players.
“I have been nicknamed BFT — Blunt Force Trauma,” he said. “The days are too short to dance around subjects some time and I think guys appreciate that.”
His straight-forward style attracted Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who set out to find a “strong winner” and feels the clean-shaven Pettine can lead Cleveland’s resurgence.
“He’s very smart,” Haslam said. “He’s aggressive. He’s innovative. You can see he’s tough. He’s going to be very demanding. He’s going to set high standards for our organization.”
Pettine spent one year with the Bills after four as Rex Ryan’s defensive coordinator with the New York Jets. Before that, Pettine was an assistant coach in Baltimore, giving him some familiarity in Cleveland’s division.
Pettine understands there are challenges in turning around the Browns, who have lost at least 11 games in each of the past six seasons and made the playoffs once in their expansion era. Pettine believes the Browns have talent — as evidenced by their six Pro Bowlers — and wants to be the one to return them to glory.
“There’s only 32 of these jobs and they don’t come along often,” Pettine said. “People ask me, ‘Why didn’t you wait? 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 position, given the right leadership, to win.”
Pettine emerged as the favorite to become Cleveland’s fourth coach in six years as the Browns eliminated candidates and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, considered the front-runner when the search started, told the team to move on without him.
His hiring ends a 25-day odyssey for the Browns. It was a quest filled with rumors, denials, withdrawals and far too much drama for a franchise seeking stability.
At the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron echoed the sentiments of most Cleveland fans.
“I’m just happy to have a coach,” he said.
The Browns flew to Mobile, Ala., on Tuesday to interview Pettine for the second time at the Senior Bowl. The four-hour meeting came shortly after Gase, the first candidate the team contacted, called Haslam and withdrew from consideration.
The team had been expected to give Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn a second interview, but if he was their pick, the Browns would have had to wait until after the Super Bowl to finalize a deal. Banner said the decision to hire Pettine before speaking with Quinn a second time was “tough.”
As six other teams filled their head-coaching vacancies, the Browns kept looking. The lengthy delay led to a national perception the team didn’t have a clear plan.
Aware of the criticism, Haslam sent a letter to Cleveland fans last week explaining why the team was being “methodical” in finding Chudzinski’s replacement.
Haslam argued the view of the Browns was media driven.
“That’s a perception that you all have generated,” he said to reporters. “That’s not the perception among candidates or football people that I’ve talked to around the country.”
Browns CEO Joe Banner took a playful jab at Cleveland’s front office, which was characterized locally as “The Three Stooges” when the search began.
“I don’t know if you had a chance to meet Mike, but since (GM) Mike Lombardi and I are Moe and Larry, we went and set out to find Curly and we succeeded,” he said. “That’s why it took so long; there aren’t a lot of Curlys running around the country.”
Now that he’s in place, Pettine is ready to roll up his sleeves and fix the Browns. Football is in his blood.
He learned the game from his father, Mike Pettine Sr., who won four Pennsylvania state championships and retired as the winningest coach in state history.
Not long after getting the job, Pettine phoned his dad.
“It was special,” he said. “It didn’t last very long because he knew I had a lot of stuff to get done. My poor mom answered the phone and he said “Is that Michael?” He ripped it out of her hands. They were both excited and knew how much work it went into this.”