INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Pettine responded to the heads-up phone call from the Browns’ director of communications with the appropriate question.
“‘How does that affect my tenure as the head coach?’” Pettine recalled Saturday morning at the scouting combine.
It didn’t. The Profootballtalk.com report Friday that the Browns nearly traded for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was newsworthy and great for talk radio in Cleveland and San Francisco, but Pettine was the one hired Jan. 23 and the one who will continue in the job.
After his initial question after being informed of the story that would soon break, Pettine spit out a few choice words.
“I shot the messenger a little bit,” he said, speaking inside Lucas Oil Stadium, feet from a picture of Harbaugh playing quarterback for the Colts. “I either used the word ‘flying’ followed by something, or referenced a part of a rat’s body.
“I think that’s noise. That’s something that has no bearing on my job moving forward. That’s a critical thing. A big part of being an NFL head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions. Just add that one to the list.”
The Browns have been generating the wrong kind of noise for much too long.
While the Kansas City crowd and Seattle’s “12th man” take turns setting world records for decibel level at an outdoor sports venue, the Dawg Pound has been muffled. Cheers of Browns fans have been replaced by the sounds that accompany the vicious cycle of losing, dysfunction and controversy.
Pettine was asked if it seems like there’s more noise in Cleveland than other NFL cities.
“Uh, that is potentially an accurate statement,” he said. “I’d like to think it’s going to get quiet. That’s my goal, is to quiet the noise. The sooner I get off this podium and can go in there and start evaluating players and see if we can find some future Cleveland Browns the better.
“I know a lot’s happened, but it’s my goal to get the staff I’ve hired moving forward and we can quiet things down and go about the business of winning football games.”
Pettine tries not to listen to the noise, but sometimes the phone rings.
“Zak (Gilbert), our PR director, brings it to me. I’m not actively pursuing it,” he said. “I’m in the office, we’re watching tape, we’re grinding away. We’re full speed ahead.
“I told the staff in our first staff meeting that we’re behind. They needed to understand the magnitude of the job we were taking on. Anytime you’re trying to turn a franchise around you have to be extraordinary. I put up a PowerPoint slide, since 1991 the Browns have had two playoff appearances and won one playoff game. In those 23 years there’s been 141 coaches. The challenge for them was, ‘How are we going to be different?’ That’s something they took to heart and hopefully we’ll have results to back that up in the fall.”
Pettine has been on the job for a month and is six months from his first game. Yet he’s already seen the firing of CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi, who were heavily involved in his hiring, and now the Harbaugh news.
Pettine tried to spin it as a positive.
“It doesn’t faze me,” he said. “What it tells me is that the Cleveland Browns have a desire to win and get this team back to a championship level. To me, it shows the commitment, but as far as how it affects me and my approach to how I’m going to coach this football team and how we are moving forward, has zero effect.”
Pettine’s appearance on the podium in the media room was his introduction to the rest of the league as Browns coach. He was asked if he has second thoughts about taking the job or ever wondered what he’s gotten himself into.
“No, because that’s negative,” he said. “To me this is a dream come true. I pinch myself every day. I wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, I can’t wait to get to work.’
“There’s so much negative, you can get overwhelmed by it. I don’t see it that way. I know I’m very blessed to be here, that my path was different and I think that’s helped motivate me.”
He was a high school coach in Pennsylvania before breaking into the NFL in 2002 as a video assistant for the Ravens.
“I’m the proverbial guy from the mailroom,” Pettine said. “I don’t have the pedigree like some other coaches have that were former players or big-name college coaches. I feel like I’ve worked my way up and had a lot to overcome. I think that’s helped motivate me.
“That’s been a chip on my shoulder. Whether it’s real or perceived, I’ve always been, ‘That guy was just a high school coach’ or ‘That guy was just getting Rex’s (Ryan) coffee.’ That’s what’s motivated me and to me that’s a big part of why I’m here today.”
Negativity has surrounded and invaded the organization for years. Pettine knows it’s his responsibility to change that culture.
“My job as a head coach is to build a work atmosphere where guys are like me, they can’t wait to get to work in the morning,” he said. “We’re going to have to be that way.
“My job as a head coach is to make sure everybody has what they need to be successful. I’m a big fan of the servant leadership model. What can I do to help you do your job? My coaches are going to get tired of me asking. That’s my job to remove those obstacles. It’s a very sensitive subject in the NFL. I don’t foresee it being a problem in Cleveland because of the positive atmosphere we’re going to create.”