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Thursday, January 23, 2014
Mike Pettine: Much to like, much to prove

By Pat McManamon

 

Mike Pettine has many positives, and the Buffalo Bills loved him.

He is a forward, direct, blunt, attacking coach who improved the Bills' defense in several categories this past season.

He learned under Rex Ryan and coached under him. He brings attitude and intensity and an in-your-face style to the Browns, who ended the coaching search that did not want to end Thursday by naming Pettine the team’s 15th coach.

Mike Pettine
Ex-Ravens coach Brian Billick said Mike Pettine "is as good a defensive mind as I've been around."
There is much to like about him.

But ... there was much to like about Rob Chudzinski a year ago.

And there is much that Pettine has to prove, just as CEO Joe Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam have much to prove, starting with showing that this search was not a wayward effort that simply wound up crashing to earth in Buffalo.

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick brought Pettine into the league in 2002 as a video assistant; Billick wanted a video guy with football knowledge, and Pettine connected to Billick through Matt Cavanaugh, a Ravens assistant who knew Pettine from Pitt. Pettine stayed on Billick’s staff through 2008.

“Mike Pettine is a good football coach and is as good a defensive mind as I've been around,” Billick said. “He will do a good job. The thing you wonder about, I understand you have to go through a process but you could have hired Mike Jan. 3 and had a leg up on putting together a staff.”

The Browns did not, though, reach out to Billick to get his feedback, which seems to indicate that the organization clearly did not have a plan in mind when it fired Chudzinski. At least the Browns didn't have a plan they could count on.

Their leading candidates seemed to drop like dominoes. Adam Gase declined to interview. Bill O’Brien went to Houston. James Franklin chose Penn State. Josh McDaniels preferred New England.

As time went on, the search grew wider, to the point that the day before they hired Pettine, they interviewed Dirk Koetter of the Falcons and former Bucs coach Greg Schiano. Koetter was fired at Arizona State in 2006, the same year Ohio State was 12-1 and played in the BCS National Championship. The coach of the Buckeyes that year was Jim Tressel, a guy the Browns chose not to interview (that we know of).

Whether Pettine is a legitimate head coach or merely a coordinator rising past his level has to play out. Pettine has proved much, but still has much to prove.

The Bills loved his approach and how he improved the defense, but Buffalo still finished 6-10 and still gave up 388 points and still had the league’s 28th-ranked run defense (128.9 yards per game). Even the Browns' woeful running game -- with Willis McGahee the feature back -- was able to run on Buffalo’s defense.

Too, there isn't a team in the league that does not think the passing game wins and that bringing along a quarterback isn't vital.

Pettine has never worked on the offensive side of the ball.

He went from a high school coaching position to an entry-level job with the Ravens, where he became close with Rex Ryan and eventually became Baltimore’s linebackers coach.

Pettine followed Ryan to the Jets, where he had the title of defensive coordinator even though Ryan ran the defense. To say Pettine didn't have a role in New York isn't fair; he did. But the defensive side of the ball was Ryan’s baby. And there was tension between Pettine and some players, specifically cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

When Pettine’s contract expired, he went to Buffalo with Doug Marrone. There he had complete autonomy with the defense for the first time in his career, and the Jets players were pleased to have Ryan back.

Pettine clearly will need a strong presence on the offensive side of the ball, a guy such as ... oh ... Norv Turner. What’s that? Oh. Never mind.

Haslam said when he started the search he wanted a proven winner. Pettine has worked with proven winners, but to say he has a record as one is ignoring the fact he has no record of his own.

It’s really kind of weird.

The Browns had an attacking defensive coordinator who believed in disrupting the passing game with different fronts and blitzes.

They just hired a head coach who was an attacking defensive coordinator who believes in disrupting the passing game with different fronts and blitzes.

At this point there is so much uncertainty and negativity swirling about the Browns that nothing they do short of bringing back Paul Brown would be welcomed with open arms.

Pettine takes a job knowing the previous coach didn't even get a calendar year, and knowing the previous coach beat the new coach’s defense on a Thursday night game when the starting quarterback hurt his knee not five minutes into the game and the Browns scored the game’s final 20 points. Remember those complaints about finishing?

Pettine might wind up the greatest coach in Browns history.

But it sure seems as though there’s a lot of grass between that point and where he is now.