Mike Pettine heard the clock ticking as the Browns waited until Thursday to hire him.
It’s a different, louder clock now that he has the job and a to-do list a mile long.
Pettine admitted Thursday to being behind the 8-ball. The Browns were the last of seven teams to fill their coaching vacancy, therefore Pettine’s playing catch-up on hiring a staff, evaluating the roster he inherited and preparing for free agency and the draft.
“That’s not a perception, that’s absolute reality,” Pettine said Thursday. “As soon as I get out of this (interview) I’m going to get out of this (suit) and get into sweats and get that staff built.”
Pettine said becoming an NFL head coach fulfilled a lifelong dream, but he came close to walking away from the chance in Cleveland.
He told WGR Sports Radio 550 in Buffalo and reiterated it Friday on WKRK 92.3-FM that he would’ve pulled out of contention if Cleveland continued to delay its decision. He didn’t want to keep the Bills and coach Doug Marrone hanging.
“That was starting to wear on me these last couple of days,” Pettine, Buffalo’s defensive coordinator in 2013, told WGR. “I talked to Doug and it was getting to the point where I’d say, ‘Hey, if this goes on much longer I need to pull out because it’s just not fair to the Bills.’”
He told WKRK he “certainly could’ve backed out” if the Browns told him they were waiting until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 to make a decision. That was a possibility because the Browns liked Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and NFL rules prohibit coaches in the Super Bowl from being hired until after the game.
CEO Joe Banner said Quinn remained under consideration until Pettine was hired, called eliminating him “probably the toughest decision” and said he’ll undoubtedly be an excellent coach.
The Browns chose Pettine, who first interviewed Jan. 16. The second interview was Tuesday, but he wasn’t offered the job until Thursday.
His first order of business is bringing in offensive and defensive coordinators. He said it’s highly likely some members of Rob Chudzinski’s staff will be retained — special teams coordinator Chris Tabor is reportedly a possibility — but coordinators Norv Turner (offense) and Ray Horton (defense) have taken jobs with other teams and no one seems in line for a promotion.
Pettine’s background is on defense, so finding the right offensive coordinator is of the utmost importance. Reports Friday said the Browns are interested in former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it’s considered unlikely he’ll become the coordinator.
Pettine acknowledged having an assistant with head coaching experience would be helpful, but said it’s not a priority and labeled it a “fringe benefit.” He wouldn’t reveal any names of assistants he might be interested in, but has strong ideas about what he’s looking for in a staff.
“I have a lot of coaches that I’m close with and I’ve worked with, but I don’t want to build, for lack of a better phrase, ‘a good old boys club,’” Pettine said. “A lot of coaches hire people that they are friends with or go way back with, and sometimes those relationships are great and for those reasons they work well together. I’m not insecure enough that that is an issue for me.
“When you hire a great coach and do background on a coach, you find he has great character and is passionate and is all about winning. When you put coaches in a room like that they’re going to bond. I think the staff will have those (coaches) that I’ve had connections with, but I’m not looking for someone to go to lunch with. It’s going to be all about winning.”
Banner played a role in the compilation of Chudzinski’s staff. He said before the latest search that the new coach would pick his own assistants, but revealed Thursday one of the last issues ironed out before Pettine was hired related to his staff.
“If he asks for suggestions we’d probably make them, but I think he’s in good shape, and he’s got a good plan,” Banner said.
Pettine started the process before he was hired and has put in requests with other teams to interview assistants. One of those is believed to be for Buffalo linebackers coach Jim O’Neil to become defensive coordinator.
“Jim’s currently under contract with the Buffalo Bills so that’s something I really can’t speak on at this time,” Pettine said.
O’Neil is relatively inexperienced in the NFL. He joined the Jets in 2009 as a defensive quality control/defensive backs assistant and was assistant defensive backs coach in 2010-12, before following Pettine to Buffalo.
The plan is for Pettine to call the defensive plays in his first year as his coordinator becomes comfortable in the role, so the “training wheels” can be taken off. Pettine followed that progression under Rex Ryan with the Jets. Pettine was coordinator for four years in New York before his season with Buffalo.
Pettine said he’ll hire the coordinators, then have them help fill out the staff so there’s compatibility. He feels the urgency to assemble his assistants and start evaluating the roster, but vowed not to rush into poor decisions.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “A lot of things are in place or close to being in place.”
The Browns clarified the length of Pettine’s contract. It’s a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth.
Banner said Thursday it was a five-year deal, but Pettine told WKRK it was for four years.
** Pettine credited Marrone with helping him land the job with the Browns.
“Well, he had interviewed with the Browns a year ago, so he was very familiar with how the interviews were structured and who I’d be meeting with and the questions that were being asked,” he told WGR. “He had researched the franchise. It was a situation where he had a lot of good information for me. It was very helpful.”