Only time will tell if Browns made right hire in Pettine
It is the first head coaching job on the NFL level for Pettine, a longtime defensive coach, but the second head coach hiring in as many years for Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
“We are thrilled to announce Mike Pettine as the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said at Thursday’s press conference announcing the hiring. (Has an owner ever not be thrilled at one of these?) “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 hit all the right notes in his introductory news conference, but there is no way of knowing, yet, if he is the coach who will finally get things turned around for the Browns. After all, the Browns have now hired nine head coaches under three different ownership groups since firing Marty Schottenheimer following the 1988 season and every one of them was supposed to be “the guy.” And, for a variety of reasons, every single one of them failed.
So why will Pettine be different?
For starters, he is not a retread, his last name is not Gruden, and he has no known connections to Bill Belichick. There is a lot to like about him, starting with his body of work.
In his one year as defensive coordinator in Buffalo, the Bills defense improved from 22nd to 10th in yards allowed, were tops in the league in opponent’s completion percentage, second in interceptions and third in opponent’s quarterback rating. In New York with the Jets, his defense led the NFL in points per game, total yards per game and passing yards per game in 2009, and made consecutive AFC Championship Games. And while he was not the head man with the Jets, the fact that he could survive in New York means he’ll have no problem with the milquetoast Cleveland media.
Pettine favors a defense that is similar to what the Browns ran last year under Ray Horton, meaning that several of the pieces should already be in place on the roster. This is what he told The Buffalo News last year when he was hired by the Bills:
“We’re going to play smart, we’re going to be tough, we’re going to be relentless. We’re going to put pressure on you. We’re going to force quarterbacks, we’re going to force offenses to make very quick decisions. We’re going to take our best shot at you. We’re not going to be a read-and-react defense. That is not in our vocabulary. I think in this league to be successful, you have to be aggressive. I don’t think you can be reckless, your aggression has to be calculated, but if you want to sum up what we’ll be, it’s going to be an attack style.”
We liked that when Horton promised it; we’ll like it even better if Pettine can deliver it.
Pettine knows what it takes to win in the AFC North after having worked with the Baltimore Ravens, and certainly scored points on Thursday when he said that the Browns are “going to be built on toughness. To play in the AFC North, you have to be willing to bloody your nose.” He also brings a sense of being confident without being over the top, saying that “I’ll always bet on myself. I don’t want to to back away from a job because of a perceived lack of security.”
Just as important as the numbers is that Pettine brings something to Cleveland that we haven’t seen in a Browns coach in a long, long time: respect.
Coaches that have worked with Pettine, and players that have played for him, can’t seem to say enough good things about Pettine. That fact the Buffalo didn’t want him to leave has to mean something, as that clearly hasn’t been the case with the past three coaching hires the Browns have made.
There are still a lot of questions that need answered on Pettine, mainly who will his coordinators be? And we won’t know what he’s like on game days until things get real in September.
Time will tell if the Browns made the right choice in hiring Pettine, but he provides what we always need in Cleveland – hope that a better day is coming.
And for now, that is enough.
(Photo courtesy of The Plain Dealer)