New Browns coach Mike Pettine said all the right things Thursday at his introductory news conference in Berea.
The longtime NFL assistant thanked Cleveland’s front office for hiring him, praised the team’s long-suffering fans and expressed gratitude that he now holds one of “only 32 of these jobs in the world.”
Pettine’s most important statement, however, was much more straightforward.
“I don’t think anything I can do or say today — or for that matter, until September — will matter,” he said. “This is a bottom-line business. It’s all about winning.
“I don’t want to win press conferences. I want to win football games.”
No doubt, those words were music to the ears of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III, who gave Pettine a five-year contract to take over one of the losingest franchises in pro sports.
The hiring came 25 days after Cleveland fired coach Rob Chudzinski, which came 12 months after the axing of Pat Shurmur — and 11 years since the Browns’ last appearance in the playoffs.
Haslam is not responsible for the latter drought, but accepted full culpability for being on his third coach since purchasing the team in October 2012.
“I don’t know if any of you have hired people,” the Tennessee billionaire said. “Honestly, I don’t, but the hiring process is always difficult. I don’t know of anybody who bats 1.000.
“If you think the hire isn’t correct, you’ve got to make a change and move on and hopefully learn from it. And hopefully, that’s what happens.”
While Haslam is a brilliant businessman, unfortunately, his track record in Cleveland doesn’t inspire much confidence.
The Browns are 8-17 during his ownership, have terminated two coaches and were referred to as “radioactive” by the league’s mouthpiece, NFL Network.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Chudzinski was well-liked by Cleveland’s players and its most passionate fans. By only giving him one year and 16 games in his dream job, Haslam coated the organization with a stench that could linger for some time.
“That we didn’t perform last year, I’ll take full responsibility for that,” Haslam said. “I call the shots at the end of the day. That’s all on me. We’re highly focused on putting together a team that will win consistently over a long period of time.
“I don’t take the fans’ passion as a negative. I know they want to win. Hell, so do I. I get it. I’m a fan, too.”
But at what cost? And with how much collateral damage along the way?
Haslam all but accused “Chud” of being too soft in running the team, repeatedly praising Pettine for being “tough and very demanding” and saying “he’ll provide us with an edge that we need.”
The embattled Pilot Flying J CEO also backed general manager Michael Lombardi, whose personnel decisions have been beyond disastrous, and blamed the media for the negative “perception that’s been created out there” about the Browns.
Pettine chose to view the glass as half-full in accepting the head coaching job, just as Northeast Ohio football fans did with Haslam when he came to town.
Whether he winds up regretting it, as Chudzinski did, will be obvious by this time next winter.
“One of the things that was so attractive to me was how upbeat everyone was when I sat in those interviews,” Pettine said. “The energy, how much passion there was — especially from Mr. Haslam — about wanting to win impressed me.
“As I mentioned, this is a bottom-line business, but I think a lot of pieces are in place here to do that.”