The Browns’ long and winding coaching search reached its destination this afternoon.
The Browns hired Mike Pettine as their 15th full-time head coach. He spent 2013 as defensive coordinator of the Bills.
Pettine entered the discussion a week ago but quickly made an impression on Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner. He signed a five-year contract, a year longer than predecessor Rob Chudzinski, who was fired after one season.
Pettine, 47, interviewed for the first time Jan. 16. The Browns’ brass flew to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Tuesday to interview him for the second time. A third meeting today in Berea sealed the deal.
“We are thrilled to announce Mike Pettine as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said in a statement announcing the hiring. “Mike is the epitome of what we want the Browns to be — tough, aggressive and innovative — with a blue-collar, team-first mentality. He knows what’s necessary to beat teams in the AFC North. Most importantly, Mike has repeatedly shown the ability to lead his players to consistent improvement and success, clearly what we are striving for as he leads the Cleveland Browns moving forward.”
Pettine has coached in the NFL for 12 years, including the last five as coordinator. Before taking the Bills job in 2013, he was with the Jets for four years. He’s a disciple of Jets coach Rex Ryan, having worked under him for 11 years in Baltimore and New York.
Pettine said he has the opposite personality of the outgoing, boisterous Ryan and won’t be predicting any Super Bowl trips. Pettine said he’s been nicknamed “BFT” for Blunt Force Trauma.
“The day’s too short to dance around subjects,” Pettine said in an interview with the beat writers.
But he said the military style of the past doesn’t work anymore.
“You need to be critical without being demeaning,” he said.
The Browns’ search took 25 days, and they were busy throughout.
The interviews started Jan. 1 with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was considered a strong possibility until the finish. A second candidate remained in consideration as of Thursday afternoon, Banner said, although he didn’t specify who it was.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and recently fired Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano were added Wednesday to complete a list that reached 10 known interviews.
But the attention returned to Pettine on Thursday, and an agreement was reached around 3:45.
“We wanted to be thorough from the start,” Banner said in the statement, “and we interviewed as many people as we could. From that group, we hired the best individual for this job. Our players and fans are going to really enjoy Mike Pettine and his leadership style. We’re excited to have him out in front of our team, and we look forward to working closely with him.”
Banner and Haslam were well aware of the negative perception about the Browns and their search.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Banner joked. “I didn’t want to take 10 more days of pummeling.”
The Browns went 4-12 in Chudzinski’s only season, losing the final seven games and 10 of the last 11. He was fired Dec. 29, hours after a 20-7 loss at Pittsburgh in the finale.
Haslam and Banner felt the Browns failed to show the necessary progress toward the end of the season. They admitted hiring Chudzinski was a mistake and vowed to get it right this time.
Pettine is the seventh coach since the Browns returned in 1999, as Cleveland has gone 77-163 without a playoff win. The last winning season came in 2007.
Pettine’s background is mainly in the 3-4 system, which the Browns ran under former coordinator Ray Horton. The Bills ranked second with a franchise-record 57 sacks, 10th in yards allowed and 20th in points, all improvements from the previous year.
In Pettine’s four years with the Jets, they ranked first, third, fifth and eighth. His scheme has been described as attacking and he has a strong personality.
Pettine’s previous experience as a head coach came on the high school level. His last season was with North Penn High School in Towamencin Township, Pa., in 2001. His father, Mike Sr., was a famous high school coach in Pennsylvania who retired after winning his final 45 games.
Pettine made the leap to the NFL in 2002, working as a coaching and video assistant for the Ravens. He climbed the ladder and earned the trust of Ryan.
“Obviously he’s very well respected throughout the league,” Bills coach Doug Marrone told The Buffalo News this week. “I think in this league when you go out there and you’re putting together a scheme and you’re productive and successful at it, I think you’re going to get recognized.
“We’re happy for him. It’s deserving.”
Cleveland’s extensive search was filled with detours.
Patriots offensive coordinator and Canton native Josh McDaniels and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase were considered favorites from the start, as the Browns quickly requested interviews with them. The Browns seemed intent on finding a bright, young offensive mind — that was part of the allure of Chudzinski — but their targets proved elusive and they chose a defensive coach.
McDaniels met with the Browns early in the month, but withdrew from consideration after he was told he wasn’t the front-runner to land the job. According to ESPN’s Ed Werder, the Browns called him again this week but he declined for a second time.
Gase, 35, declined an initial interview to focus on the playoffs, then pulled out completely Tuesday as he prepared for the Super Bowl. The Broncos scored an NFL-record 606 points, and Peyton Manning set records with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards in Gase’s first year as a coordinator. He should be a hot candidate next year.
The Browns also interviewed Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (hired by Titans as head coach), Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (withdrew from consideration), Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo (hired by Giants as coordinator), fired Titans coach Mike Munchak (hired by Steelers as offensive line coach) and Cowboys special teams coach Rich Bisaccia.
They settled on Pettine, who enters a tough situation. Not only have the Browns lost at least 10 games in six straight years, he’s getting a late start assembling his staff.
Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt has been rumored to be a possible offensive coordinator, but the Packers don’t have to let him leave because he’s under contract. Van Pelt appeared in 31 games as a quarterback for the Bills.
His only season as a coordinator was in 2009. He entered the year as quarterbacks coach but was promoted in September. The Bills ranked 30th in total yards and 28th in scoring with 16.1 point per game.
Veteran coach Cam Cameron has also been mentioned as a possibility. He’s been a successful coordinator with San Diego and Baltimore, and went 1-15 in 2007 with Miami in his only year as an NFL head coach. He spent 2013 as coordinator/quarterbacks coach for LSU and Elyria native Les Miles.