BEREA — The new coach of the Browns has a nickname: BFT. The initials stand for Blunt Force Trauma.
“The days are too short to dance around subjects some time and I think guys appreciate that,” he said.
Mike Pettine was introduced Thursday afternoon, about an hour after being hired as the 15th full-time coach in franchise history. His shaved head shined under the lights of the field house, and his orange tie leaned to the right of his blue shirt and striped suit.
“To compete in the AFC North you have to be willing to bloody your nose a little bit,” said Pettine, 47, who was defensive coordinator for the Bills in 2013. “This team is going to be built on toughness. Most people think of toughness in just the physical sense, I think as important or more important is the mental toughness.
“We’re going to set high standards for our players. They’re going to be graded hard on every snap, whether it’s a snap in practice or whether it’s a snap in a game.”
Owner Jimmy Haslam has hired two coaches in less than two years in charge. He believes he got it right this time.
“He’s very smart, he’s aggressive, he’s innovative,” Haslam said. “I think you can see he’s tough. He’s going to be very demanding.”
He referenced a familiar face for Browns fans, that of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
“He’s got that Cowher jaw, I believe,” Haslam said. “Let’s face it, we play in the AFC North. I think he’s going to bring the kind of toughness we need to compete with those teams.”
A nickname can say a lot about a person, but it can’t encapsulate the whole man. Pettine’s soft side came out in exchanges with his daughter Megan and father, Mike Sr.
“She sent me a text this morning that I think would have made most fathers cry,” Pettine said.
Dad had a different reaction when Megan created a mini-Twitter controversy last week after Pettine was told he’d have a second interview.
“It’s the browns,” she posted on a Twitter account since deleted. “But hey, still pretty cool!”
“We had a very long father-daughter chat after that one,” Pettine said. “She learned a very valuable lesson in the power of social media. She was mortified, called me hysterically crying one day after it happened. She has no choice, she’s a fan now.”
Pettine signed a five-year deal to put an end to the 25-day search to replace Rob Chudzinski. The extra year compared to a typical contract for a first-time head coach can be attributed to the perceived instability of the job after the firing of Chudzinski after one season.
Pettine was defensive coordinator for the Bills (6-10) for one year after four in the same role with the Jets under Rex Ryan. Pettine’s defenses never finished worse than 10th in the league rankings, and the Bills were second in sacks with a franchise-record 57.
The Browns interviewed 10 candidates in person and talked to others on the phone and didn’t decide on Pettine until Thursday afternoon. CEO Joe Banner said the team had a second finalist, but wouldn’t divulge any details.
Pettine said he didn’t care that he may not have been the first choice of Haslam and Banner.
“That to me is not an issue,” he said. “It’s been my life-long dream to be an NFL head coach and however that opportunity presents itself is fine with me.”
He also didn’t care if he wasn’t courted for the six other openings across the NFL. Or if the Browns have earned a negative reputation throughout the league.
“Confidence in the information that I gathered of how committed this franchise is to winning, and the confidence in myself,” he said. “Falling back to betting on me. There’s only 32 of these jobs in the world and these opportunities don’t come along often.
“I looked at the situation as when you put all of the factors together this franchise is in position, given the right leadership, to win.”
The largest influence on Pettine’s career is his father, a legendary high school coach outside of Philadelphia. He won the final 45 games of his career before he retired, coached Pettine so hard as a quarterback Pettine left the game for a bit and holds a 5-0 record coaching against his son.
“I’ve worked for some great coaches, played for some great coaches, but I think all of my roots, all of my foundations still go back to my dad,” Pettine said. “He was a guy that, to me, just understood football from A-Z. He wasn’t an offensive specialist, a defensive specialist, he was just pure football through and through.”
Pettine said his dad ripped the phone from his mother’s hand when he called to tell them the news.
“It was special. It didn’t last very long because he knew I had a lot of stuff to get done,” he said. “They were both excited and knew how much work went into this.”
Pettine’s last time as a head coach came in 2001 at North Penn High School outside of Philadelphia. He took a risk by leaving to work as a video and coaching assistant for the Ravens. He’s risen quickly to the highest level of his professional.
“I never had a timetable for this,” he said. “Just work hard and when that gets recognized you get promoted, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have things fall into place, and the planets get lined up and be standing here today.”
Haslam and Banner were familiar with Pettine from last season’s search, when they considered him to be the defensive coordinator. Banner was inclined to hire an offensive coach to replace Chudzinski because of the high-scoring nature of today’s NFL, but said Pettine works because of the way Pettine thinks.
“It was important to make sure we hired somebody who understood how important it was to be aggressive about trying to score points on offense,” Banner said. “Some people think, and in most cases it’s probably true, that’s more likely to be an offensive-minded guy. But here we have a defensive coach who’s actually got a very aggressive mindset about how you run offense, how you play offense and how you try to score as many points as you can.”
Pettine said his plan for Thursday night was to change into sweats and start calling coaches for his staff. He admitted to being behind the 8-ball because of the late date of the hire, but believes he’ll put together a solid staff.
Pettine said he plans to call defensive plays for his first season but will spend plenty of time as the bridge between the offense, defense and special teams.
Pettine worked under Ryan for 11 years with the Ravens and Jets. Pettine said he doesn’t have the same outgoing, brash personality as his mentor and friend.
“We’re pretty much opposites of each other,” he said. “I’m not going to be predicting Super Bowls.”
He will be direct — like a hammer to the head. But with a measure of tact.
“You can’t be that military-type model,” he said. “You have to understand we’re all in it together. You have to find ways of being critical without being demeaning.”