NFL Nation: Joe Banner

Browns noise keeps on keeping on

February, 22, 2014
PettineAP Photo/Tony DejakIn his short time with the Browns, new coach Mike Pettine has dealt with several distractions.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Friday afternoon, Mike Pettine learned the Cleveland Browns had tried in January to send draft picks to San Francisco to acquire Jim Harbaugh to be the team’s coach.

A team official called Pettine to warn him the story would break.

His initial response was to, as he said, shoot the messenger.

“I asked, ‘How does this affect my tenure as the Cleveland Browns' head coach? Has that changed?’” Pettine said Saturday morning at the NFL combine. “The obvious answer was 'no.' Then I think my next line had something to do with having the word flying in it, or it referenced a part of a rat’s body.”

So Pettine didn't care a flying fig or a rat’s patootie that the Browns tried to trade for Harbaugh.

“It doesn't faze me,” he said. “That’s noise to me.”

His words were strong, but the look in his eyes and his face didn't match the words. Pettine almost seemed to be rolling his eyes at yet another report, this one from

How close the Browns came to accomplishing a deal is up for debate. San Francisco owner Jed York posted on Twitter that the report was “not true.” Others said the Browns never asked the 49ers for permission to talk to Harbaugh, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the Browns and 49ers had serious discussions. Clearly the idea was discussed, and Harbaugh -- who led the 49ers to the past three NFC Championship Games -- was the mystery candidate then-Browns CEO Joe Banner declined to name.

The attempt to hire Harbaugh could be looked at a number of ways. The half-full view is they tried to find an established coach. The half-empty view says the front office really wasn't on the same page, that as it was talking to Pettine it was trying to hire Harbaugh.

Pettine could view it that he truly was an alternate choice, a guy the team settled on rather than the guy the team wanted. Now he could wonder how committed the Browns are to him.

Pettine does not look at it that way.

“What it tells me is that the Cleveland Browns have a desire to win and want to get this team back to a championship level,” he said. “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, it has zero effect.”

The Harbaugh deal was in the works when Banner and former general manager Mike Lombardi were in place with the Browns. Lombardi and Harbaugh have a close relationship, so the effort to bring Harbaugh aboard could have been his.

But just when the Browns seemed headed toward some sense of normalcy, the news broke and Pettine had to refer to a rat’s backside. In the short time he’s been with the Browns, the two guys who hired him have been fired, he’s working for a GM he didn't meet until the day he was hired (inside video on the team’s web site showed Lombardi introducing Pettine to Ray Farmer that day), and he's dealing with questions about a trade for another coach.

Quickly he’s learned what life can be like with the Cleveland Browns.

“A big thing about being a head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions,” he said. “Just add that one to the list.”

It’s hardly one that could have been expected, though.

The way he said it, Pettine seemed startled and maybe even weary of all the drama. He didn't hide that reality when he was asked if the drama in Cleveland seems more frequent than in other cities.

“That potentially is an accurate statement,” Pettine said. “I’d like to think that it’s going to get quieter. That’s my goal, to quiet the noise. The sooner I can get off this podium and go in there and find some players to help the Browns the better. I know a lot’s happened. But it’s my goal to get the staff I've hired moving forward, that we can quiet things down and go about the business of winning football games.”

To that end, one of the first things he showed the new coaching staff was a little bit of Browns history. He showed a PowerPoint with a slide showing that since 1991, the Browns have been to the playoffs twice and won once.

“In those 23 years, there’s been 141 coaches,” he said. “The challenge for them was ‘How are we going to be different?’”
When a head coach is hired before a general manager, the head coach usually wields the most influence with the team.

Think Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. He was hired immediately after the Bucs fired Greg Schiano, and his imprint and approach will be all over the team. In the more extreme sense, think former coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. He convinced former Browns owner Randy Lerner to hire George Kokinis as GM, then Mangini ran the team.

But with every rule there are exceptions, and thus it is with the Cleveland Browns of 2014, where neither the GM nor the coach will have the most influence with the team. That influence appears to be shared, with guidance coming from owner Jimmy Haslam.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony Dejak"I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed," GM Ray Farmer said.
GM Ray Farmer will be in charge of football operations, but he and coach Mike Pettine will share authority and work together in this latest incarnation of Browns' rebuilding. Farmer ultimately will be in charge of the 53-man roster and Pettine will be in charge of the roster on game days.

“(Picking players) will be a collaborative effort,” Haslam said. “I think that we’ve got a great group of scouts, and I think that Pett and his coaching staff -- we talked about this at dinner last night -- will participate, and I think that we’ll all work together to get the best players we can.”

It’s not an unusual setup. In fact, it’s very much like the setup in Pittsburgh, where GM Kevin Colbert handles personnel, Mike Tomlin handles coaching, and Art Rooney runs the team. Tomlin can go to Rooney at any point, and though Colbert has a lot of authority, it’s tough to call him Tomlin’s boss. The structure can work.

What is unusual is the timing. In most cases, the owner would want the new GM involved actively in choosing the new coach. That did not happen, through no fault of Haslam.

It seems the owner entered the coaching search without plans to make an overhaul. It actually seems that the coaching search contributed to the decision to make the overhaul.

Which means Farmer becomes GM at what could be an awkward time, but doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be if those involved don’t want it to be awkward, and don’t let it be awkward.

The job for Pettine and Farmer is to win. To set aside egos and win.

The way to win is for Pettine to let Farmer know what kind of players he wants, and for Farmer to find those players. That process has started.

“(Pettine) has already kind of set forward the players and how they kind of stack up for his scheme, the importance of one position versus another,” Farmer said. “As we work through those, I’ll get a better idea of what he needs to be successful.”

Pettine and Farmer have been impressive since being hired. Pettine is firm, straightforward and honest. Farmer has hit a lot of right notes in a couple of days since he was named GM. He’s personable, bright, answers a question, and does so without a lot of ego. He gets the idea of being on a team because he was a player, and seems to have a little something-something, a presence, that gives reason for hope. He’s also respected by many throughout the league.

None of that will draft a Pro Bowler or win a game, but it’s a good starting point.

In a recent radio interivew on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Farmer was asked what kind of team he would build. He said tough, because that’s the kind of team Pettine wants to build.

Farmer said Tuesday that the Browns already have multiple draft boards, but they would change as he consults with coaches. He said the draft is about preparation, that by the time players are picked “the hay is in the barn.”

“It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach,” Farmer said. “So I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed.”

If that sounds like it had a good dose of humility, it’s because it did.
Jimmy Haslam’s remake (i.e. streamlining) of the Cleveland Browns front office was a major bombshell.

But according to league sources familiar with the way things went with the Browns in 2013, the decision was a culmination of Haslam, the Browns' owner, coming to grips with several factors, primarily that the structure CEO Joe Banner convinced him to build was not working.

Whether that was because of the personality of the people involved or because of the structure itself is a matter of opinion.

Haslam spoke highly of Banner even as he was announcing his departure.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
AP Photo/Tony DejakTrading star WR Josh Gordon would likely have been a PR disaster for the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with him,” Haslam said. He then called former general manager Mike Lombardi a great friend who has “great football acumen.” Haslam added that he and Banner had been discussing this streamlining for two weeks. It would be tough to find a higher road for the owner, which is admirable.

The sources said the change in the team’s structure with both coach Mike Pettine and new GM Ray Farmer reporting directly to Haslam is a fallout from the former system, which had everyone providing information to Banner.

The owner prefers more direct channels.

The sources also addressed several reports of what happened with the Browns last season:

• One source said Lombardi favored trading Josh Gordon. On the day Gordon was selected in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012, Lombardi -- then an analyst with -- criticized the selection. Former coach Rob Chudzinski, aware his receiving corps would have been left with Greg Little and Davone Bess and who knows, worked hard to keep Gordon. Eventually, Banner did not like the offers he received. Gordon went on to lead the league in receiving yards. He averaged 97 yards per game before the trade deadline in late October, 133 after.

Lombardi would not comment on his position on Gordon, and declined comment on other matters related to the team and season. Chudzinski now works for the Indianapolis Colts, who make their assistants available only at certain times of the year. Now is not one of those times.

• Banner did not ask Chudzinski to cut Little and guard Shawn Lauvao. However, Banner’s personnel moves did leave Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner frustrated. Bess was brought in by Lombardi to be the dependable third-down guy. He was anything but. At one point the Browns had Bess starting ahead of Little, an indicator of the coaches’ frustration and “what are we supposed to do” thinking. There was ongoing frustration about the running back position. Farmer was asked Tuesday if Banner was a good judge of football talent, and he thought a moment before answering: “I could tell you that Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I would say that is a good representation.”

• The only time the team seriously discussed acquiring a back after the Trent Richardson trade was when the possibility of trading Gordon was discussed. When Richardson was traded, there was no other immediate plan to acquire a back.

• Banner tried to exert control over much -- from personnel to offensive system, which galled the former coaching staff given the experience of Turner.

• The coaching staff considered the draft a near waste. Barkevious Mingo at the sixth pick was a situational pass-rusher, and Leon McFadden was drafted two rounds earlier than the team’s scouts projected. The team also traded two picks in 2013 for picks in 2014. Those picks will benefit the new coaching staff at the expense of the old. “Ridiculous,” said one NFL coach.

• The mesh between the scouts held over from former GM Tom Heckert to Lombardi was difficult. No scouts were in the Browns' draft room during the ‘13 draft. Many transitions with a front office and scouts are tough; this one seemed tougher.

• The free agents and acquisitions were much touted, but league insiders point out that only Paul Kruger started with his former team. Quentin Groves, Desmond Bryant and Dion Lewis were backups. Quarterback Brian Hoyer played well and earned the respect of everyone, but there were very few coaches in the league who saw him as a starter when the Browns acquired him.

• In the news conference after Chudzinski was fired, Banner called Groves, Bryant and Lewis “excellent additions.” Haslam sat to Banner’s left as he spoke. All six of the team’s Pro Bowlers, though, were brought in by either Heckert, Eric Mangini or Phil Savage.

• Haslam gained much of his insight on the team from Banner, who was the voice between Lombardi, the coaches and Haslam.

• There is a belief that Haslam’s eyes were opened to how his team was viewed around the league as the 25-day coaching search took place. In talking with people from other teams, Haslam learned firsthand of the reluctance of some coaches to work in the Browns' old structure, and of the difficulty in dealing with the Browns in terms of trades. Peter King wrote on that the first question Ken Whisenhunt asked when the Browns interviewed him this year was why he was not hired a year ago. Banner told Whisenhunt he did not believe Whisenhunt was putting together a championship staff. “Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship staff?” Whisenhunt snapped.

• It may have meant something or nothing, but one of the last things Haslam said Tuesday was: “I think we got the best coach we could get.”

Piece everything together and it’s evident why Haslam preferred a more streamlined operation.

He wants people working together, reporting to him, with no filter between the voices.

The structure seems almost as clear as the reasons that prompted it.
Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner and Mike LombardiAP Photo/Mark DuncanBrowns owner Jimmy Haslam, right, is parting ways with Mike Lombardi, center, and CEO Joe Banner.
BEREA, Ohio -- If what Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam did on Tuesday was streamlining, it would be downright frightening to see his overhaul.

The coffee cups might not even be safe.

Haslam blew up not only his front office structure on Tuesday, but also blew out the people he initially hired to run it. CEO Joe Banner will transition out of the front office over the next two months, and general manager Mike Lombardi is gone. Both were said to be shocked at the moves, though Haslam said he and Banner discussed streamlining the team’s structure two weeks ago. If those realities sound implausible, well ... hey ... it’s the Browns.

Ray Farmer is the new GM, promoted from assistant GM. Alec Scheiner becomes a true president, in charge of business operations with no CEO over him.

They, along with coach Mike Pettine, will report directly to Haslam.

Haslam chose not to dump dirt on the folks who are leaving, praising them effusively for the jobs they did and thanking them over and over. But it’s pretty clear the NFL-arranged marriage between Haslam and Banner didn’t work, and Haslam wanted to regain charge of his team.

He called it a streamlining that he and Banner discussed and agreed to, which would make it one of the few times in history that an NFL CEO streamlined himself out of a job.

Haslam explained it by saying Banner was adept at building a new organization, and he had done that. His work in Cleveland, evidently, was over.

“Jimmy just corrected a mistake,” one league coach said.

Haslam spoke in his news conference in a way that would have made the governor of Tennessee proud, a man who just happens to be Haslam’s brother.

But this streamlining sure seemed to carry a ton of accountability with it. Though Haslam again denied there is a negative public perception of the Browns, there is no denying the team has been buffeted about in heavy seas without a sail in recent months.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakRay Farmer was named Cleveland's GM on Tuesday.
There were puzzling personnel decisions during the season, the distasteful leaks as Rob Chudzinski tried to coach the season finale, Norv Turner’s emotional reaction to the coaching change (the thought alone of Turner being let go by the Browns is mind-boggling), the Davone Bess trade and contract extension, followed by his bizarre behavior after the season and his even more bizarre tweets and news that he had similar issues prior to his trade.

There was the extended coaching search, with coaches declining to take the job -- including Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen. Wisconsin admitted Tuesday that he had interviewed but decided to stay with the Badgers.

There was Josh McDaniels pulling out, after Chip Kelly chose Philadelphia over Cleveland a year ago, after Nick Saban chose not to interview. Their common denominator is they were all said to be in Lombardi’s circle.

There was more, and as time goes on more will come out. Banner always ran a team with a firm hand, leading, some said, by fear and intimidation. It can work, but it wasn’t popular. At last year’s draft, the team scouts rated cornerback Leon McFadden as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and the Browns took him in the third round. Future draft picks were traded away. Tony Grossi reported on ESPN-850 radio in Cleveland that he spoke with two NFL insiders at the Super Bowl, two Lombardi guys, and they both said Banner was to blame for what was wrong in Cleveland, that Banner was calling the shots.

Banner was deep into analytics, numbers, while old-time football guys would favor old-time scouting. Lombardi perfected the “box test,” which supposedly tested player agility. Old-time football guys favor how a guy tackles and closes on receivers. Lombardi never met with the media, a decision made by Banner, who handled personnel questions and decisions.

Asked if Banner was a good judge of football talent, Farmer said this: “Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I’d say that’s a good representation."

Banner did secure $30 million in funding from the city of Cleveland for stadium renovations, and he did bring Farmer to Cleveland from Kansas City and juggled titles so Farmer could join the team.

But the Browns did not resemble a team working together. In the past month they resembled a team eating its own, with folks struggling to protect their fiefdoms.

An owner who came from the Steelers' tradition had to look at his structure and wonder what was happening. Because hiring a coach into the same structure was not going to change the operation.

Haslam now has taken a drastic step ... err ... has streamlined to put a guy in charge who garners near universal respect around the league. Farmer hit all the right notes in his news conference, saying “It’s time to make people proud of the Browns again.” That won’t help him select a quarterback, but there almost seemed to be a breath of relief from the fandom following these changes.

A business guy is running business.

A football guy is running football.

A coach is coaching.

All report to the owner.

Imagine that. A respected longtime football guy running football. As anyone in Cleveland can attest, it doesn’t guarantee wins. But it’s something.

For team and a fan base that has had little reason for optimism the past many years, something is meaningful.
PHILADELPHIA -- Well, that was quick.

Tuesday's events in Cleveland stunned observers around the NFL, but nowhere more than in Philadelphia. The Browns’ recent history has been strangely tied up with that of the Eagles, a phenomenon that continued with the announcement that Ray Farmer would be the Browns' new general manager.

Farmer was the Eagles’ fourth-round pick out of Duke in 1996. He played linebacker and special teams for three years. Farmer’s last season in the NFL was in 1998.

In 1998, Joe Banner was the Eagles’ executive vice president and Michael Lombardi was their director of pro personnel.

Small league, huh?

Farmer’s promotion was not the big shock Tuesday, of course. He has been on the cusp of a general manager’s job for several years after working his way through the scouting and personnel ranks. Farmer interviewed for the Miami Dolphins GM job last month.

The stunning news was the ouster of Banner, who spent 18 years as the Eagles’ top executive, and Lombardi. Their bizarrely brief tenure was also entwined with goings-on in Philadelphia.

Banner left the Eagles in June 2012 and was named CEO of the Browns as they were being purchased by Jimmy Haslam. The head coach he inherited was Pat Shurmur, a longtime Eagles assistant under Andy Reid. Banner hired Lombardi as his GM and the two fired Shurmur at the end of the 2012 season.

Shurmur is now the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.

Banner and Lombardi interviewed a number of head coaching candidates, foremost among them Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. We know how that turned out. Kelly came to Philadelphia and the Browns hired Rob Chudzinski.

Kelly won the NFC East in his first season. Chudzinski won four games.

Still, it was puzzling, from this perspective, when the Browns fired Chudzinski after just one season. In 18 years with the Eagles, Banner worked with three head coaches -- Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes and Reid. Mike Pettine, hired late last month, became his third head coach in less than two years in Cleveland.

And now Banner and Lombardi are out, Farmer is in and Pettine (a native of Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia) is working for a guy who didn’t hire him.

The Philadelphia connection to Cleveland remains strong, although Eagles fans probably wouldn’t trade places with their Browns counterparts right about now.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- You want quick reaction, immediate consequences, fast change.

It's the default setting for the vast majority of fans. Your team butchers a signing, a draft pick, a game, a season, and people need to be fired. Heads need to roll. Patience isn't a virtue, it's a weakness.

If you think that way even at times, I present to you the Cleveland Browns.

They fired Rob Chudzinski as their coach after one season. And Tuesday, not long after hiring Mike Pettine to replace him, they've fired general manager Mike Lombardi, also after one season, and said CEO Joe Banner will step away in the next two months. Ray Farmer is being promoted to GM.

The Browns undergo near-constant change, and it's incredibly unhealthy.

Maybe Jimmy Haslam decided he made bad hires in Chudzinski, Lombardi and Banner. If that's the case it's better to get rid of them than to make it work.

But you know what trumps all of that? Making the right hires in the first place.

The Titans have a third head coach in five years now in Ken Whisenhunt. But it's an organization that would rate as very patient. Ruston Webster, the GM who's got a lot of power now with Tommy Smith as CEO and team president, has time to work. The coach he told Smith to hire, Whisenhunt, got a five-year deal.

Hire good people, put them in place, give them time to work.

It's a formula that's worked for New England, Pittsburgh, the New York Giants and the Packers.

Notice how teams want to be like those four a lot more than they want to be anything like the Browns.

Beware of the desire for immediate and drastic consequences.
The Cleveland Browns might not be able to win on an issue related to their coaching search.

They’re criticized for the length of time they took to hire a coach and now they’re questioned because they didn’t wait longer.

That’s because the first guy they interviewed -- Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn -- went on to win the Super Bowl. Which conveniently ignores the fact that the offensive coordinator the Browns asked about before they talked to Quinn lost the Super Bowl.

No matter.

The immediate reaction is that the Browns waited a long time, then didn’t wait for a second interview with a Super Bowl winning coordinator and hired one whose team went 6-10.

[+] EnlargeDan Quinn
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiWaiting for Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn might have led to the Browns missing out on their top two choices.
Quinn told the Cleveland Plain Dealer after the Seahawks had kicked sand in Peyton Manning’s face Sunday night that he was definitely intrigued by the Browns job.

“I certainly would have been interested,“ Quinn told Mary Kay Cabot. “I mean, it’s a big-time place. It’s the Cleveland Browns.”

Quinn could have interviewed in the week after the NFC Championship Game, but he declined, preferring to focus on the Super Bowl. He simply wanted to wait until after the game out of respect for his players.

The Browns chose to go ahead and hire former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

CEO Joe Banner called the decision not to interview Quinn for a second time “the toughest decision” in the search. He addressed the issue on Jan. 23, the day Pettine was hired.

“I think we felt that we knew [Quinn] well enough to make the comparison,” Banner said.

He had nothing but praise for Quinn, calling him “an outstanding guy, an outstanding coach.”

“If we had felt that he would be likely to prevail, we would not have liked to wait, we would not have liked to take 10 more days of pummeling, but we would have,” Banner said.

Pettine made the story a little more complicated by saying the day he was hired that if the Browns' search had dragged out a little longer -- Rob Chudzinski was fired Dec. 29 and Pettine was hired Jan. 23 -- he would have withdrawn.

Pettine felt he couldn’t keep the Bills waiting any longer.

If the Browns knew that -- and it would be shocking if they didn’t -- they were looking at either ...

  • Hiring Pettine immediately. Which was the right move if they felt he was the guy.
  • Waiting for Quinn and risk losing Pettine -- who would have withdrawn -- without being certain if Quinn would have taken the job.

That could have left the Browns without both coaches and the Super Bowl over, which would have led to even more criticism.

They went with the sure thing, a guy they liked while knowing they were turning down a guy they liked.

“That was probably the toughest decision because there’s no doubt we were very impressed with [Quinn] and there’s no doubt he’s going to be a head coach, an outstanding head coach,” Banner said. “There are a lot of people around the league that think very highly of him. But in the end we decided to move forward.”

The Browns simply can’t win in this situation, and in many ways questioning this is classic second-guessing.

The first coach the Browns sought permission to interview was Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

His offense looked bad in the Super Bowl against Quinn’s defense. Which led many of the same folks who were clamoring for Gase to be thankful the Browns didn’t get him.

One game doesn’t define a coach, good or bad. It does create reactions.

Because Quinn won, questions come up about why the Browns didn’t wait.

The questions are fair, but the answers don’t guarantee Quinn or Pettine will be the better head coach.

MailBag: The draft and the staff

January, 25, 2014
The Browns MailBag no longer can address an unresolved coaching search, but that doesn't stop the letters. Here are this week's:

Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner addressed the perception Thursday that the Cleveland Browns did not have a plan when they conducted their coaching search that resulted in the hiring of Mike Pettine.

They had a plan, they said. Their plan was simply different from most.

“We’re going to spend thousands of hours researching whether to pick a quarterback in the draft or not,” Haslam said. “Why would you not spend a lot of hours researching who the head coach of your organization is going to be?

“This thought that the first person to finish the coaching search is the winner I think is extremely far-fetched. This is an important hire. To not take your time and talk to people and do the research, the background checks we’ve done I think would be inexcusable.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports"This is an important hire. To not take your time and talk to people and do the research, the background checks we've done I think would be inexcusable," Jimmy Haslam said.
“We think it was a great process.”

Haslam went as far as to say the Browns did not start with a first choice or lead candidate, but went in ”with a wide-open field.”

“This is a fluid process,” he said, “and it changes all the time.”

Many teams do their coaching search by choosing one or two candidates, then zeroing in on them immediately and hiring them quickly. The Browns chose to cast a wide net, talk to as many people as possible and talk to many candidates. They acknowledge that Pettine was available immediately, but saw no rush to interview him when they knew he’d still be available in mid-January.

Haslam said the team interviewed 10 people in person, and a few others on the phone.

The time it took to hire a coach, though, and the Browns' decision to keep the search secret, led to a lot of reports, some of them inaccurate. A source familiar with the search said the Browns had no interest in hiring Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Penn State’s James Franklin or Bill O’Brien, formerly of Penn State and now with the Texans. (O’Brien reportedly left his interview with the Browns a year ago unimpressed with the team.)

Those names were widely reported as part of the search.

There are many different ways to hire a coach. The Baltimore Ravens did extensive research on John Harbaugh before hiring him. Haslam and Banner chose to go the in-depth route.

“With Mike we spent four or five hours twice, we spent another hour (Thursday),” he said. “These are exhaustive sessions when you ask all kinds of intense questions. They ask us very good questions. You tell a lot about the candidate by the questions they ask. There’s not one moment, it’s over a period of time. These are extremely important hires, so to rush into it in any way would be a huge mistake.”

There’s no escaping the fact the Browns did not rush into anything. Haslam said any negative perception generated by the search was caused by the media.

“This perception that’s been created out there is not reality,” he said.

Banner said fans and media have “no idea” who the candidates were and who wanted the job, but he declined to clear up misconceptions.

The pair felt the Browns had a plan all along. It was a unique plan, one that isn’t always followed, but they felt it was a plan that didn’t deserve the “pummeling” (Banner’s words) that the team received.

“I’ll take the ultimate responsibility that we did not perform last year,” Haslam said. “It’s all on me. I call all the shots at the end of the day. That’s all on me. We’re highly focused on putting together a team that will win consistently over a long period of time.”
BEREA, Ohio -- The first thing CEO Joe Banner said when he spoke at the news conference to introduce Mike Pettine as the Cleveland Browns' 15th head coach was a Three Stooges joke.

And it was funny.

“Since Mike Lombardi and I were Moe and Larry, we set out to find Curly, and we succeeded,” Banner said Thursday.

He referred, of course, to the infamous question at the Dec. 27 news conference where Rob Chudzinski’s firing was discussed, when a Cleveland-area TV reporter asked owner Jimmy Haslam to promise the fans the Three Stooges were not running the team.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Tony DejakNew coach Mike Pettine will be looking to end Cleveland's skid of six straight seasons with 11 or more losses.
That was 25 days ago, and Banner was able to laugh about it -- even though an exhaustive search had the Browns taking barbs from everyone from the NFL Network to Deadspin to Jay Leno. Banner referred to it as a “pummeling.”

“It never burnt,” Banner said of the Stooges question. “It didn’t feel justified.”

Then he chuckled.

“But there’s still humor in it,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being able to poke a little fun at yourself from time to time.”

Pettine comes from the Buffalo Bills, and Banner said he, like everyone else the team interviewed, asked the Browns about job security in light of Chudzinski getting just one season. Banner said the team explained its thinking to everyone.

“It’s not unnerving,” Pettine said.

He said it with quiet force.

“Sometimes it’s the cockiness of a coach, but I’ll always bet on myself,” he said. “I don’t want to back away from a job because of a perceived lack of security.”

Banner said the Browns had Pettine on their radar for the defensive coordinator spot a year ago, but he chose to go to Buffalo. The Browns' CEO said it didn’t matter that Pettine was the sixth or seventh person to interview, that the schedule came down to logistics, who was where and who was working.

Pettine promised a mentally tough team that would not fall into old traps of thinking “same old Browns.” He promised players would be held accountable. He said he’d adjust his systems to the personnel, not force personnel into a system.

And he said he’s a pretty straightforward guy who isn’t afraid to be critical. He even admitted his nickname at one point was BFT -- Blunt Force Trauma.

“The days are too short to dance around subjects,” he said. “I think guys appreciate that. You have to do it in ways that are not demeaning. You can’t be that way as a coach anymore. It can’t be that military-type model.

“I think you have to understand we’re all in this together.”

Which means Pettine enters the same player personnel structure as a year ago, with Ray Farmer and Lombardi providing input on personnel and Banner making the final decisions. Banner said that system won’t change.

But Pettine also enters an environment when the perception of the Browns is not great -- with six seasons in a row of at least 11 losses and a coaching search that Banner admitted was so exhaustive it “caused people to question and wonder.”

“We wouldn’t have wanted to take 10 more days of pummeling,” Banner said.

Banner said the pummeling was “not pleasurable” and was “somewhat unjustified” while still admitting that he understood the questions and skepticism about firing a coach after one season.

“It wasn’t fun,” Banner said. “And it was also hard to not be in a position to respond to it.”

Haslam said he never watches TV, so he didn’t know the Leno jokes.

“I think that’s a perception that you all have generated,” he said to the media. “That’s not the perception among the candidates. That’s not the perception among football people I’ve talked to around the country.”

Haslam also said the Browns might never have had a first choice.

“You have a list of individuals we were going to talk to,” he said. “This is a fluid process and it changes all the time.”

Pettine was just glad the process ended with him. The son of a high school coaching legend in Philadelphia, a guy hired by Brian Billick in Baltimore and Rex Ryan in New York, he was just happy for the chance because he believes in the people who hired him and he believes in himself.

“There’s only 32 of these jobs in the world and these opportunities don’t come along often,” Pettine said. “People ask me, ‘Why didn’t you wait? There will be chances next year.’ I don’t know if I believe in that. When you put all the factors together, this franchise is in position, given the right leadership, to win.”

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.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsEx-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.
An interesting process begins Tuesday as representatives of Cleveland’s three professional sports team will appear in front of the Cuyahoga County Council to make their pitch to extend the “sin tax.”

The teams are asking for a 20-year extension of a tax on alcohol and cigarettes to fund continued maintenance of the stadiums and arena that hosts the Cavs, Browns and Indians.

And they’re doing it in a climate where the Browns' public image is hurting. The Browns last year were provided $30 million from the city for $120 million in stadium upgrades, the balance paid by the team. At the time, Browns CEO Joe Banner said the team was a big supporter of the sin tax.

As it should be, because without the sin tax the team or the city would have to find money to upgrade and/or keep the facilities up to date. These include new scoreboards that produce huge revenues for the teams. The Plain Dealer reported that the Indians and Cavs will ask for new scoreboards as part of their proposal for improvements.

The beginning of the discussion is emblematic of what is happening in many cities. Teams use their leverage to garner money from cities and counties for facilities. The selling point is the goodwill, quality of life and money generated by teams, which bring people to downtown areas. The negative is a good bit of money going to professional sports in a city that is struggling.

The original sin tax helped build new baseball, football and basketball facilities in the 1990s. The leases in place require the teams to pay for operating the stadium, and the city to pay for necessary maintenance. Cosmetic upgrades are the responsibility of the team, which keeps the revenue from selling naming rights.

What will be interesting is how the public reacts to the climate of negativity that surrounds the teams, especially the Browns, who haven’t won more than five games in any of the last six seasons. The Cavs are still trying to bounce back from losing LeBron James.

Only the Indians have made the playoffs recently, but they seem to take the most grief from fans even though they have the best operation of any local team.

Plain Dealer editorial cartoonist Jeff Darcy summed up some of the feelings in town with his drawing today. In a column that went with the cartoon, Darcy called the sin tax “continued corporate welfare for the super-rich.” He continued: “Does a billionaire owner, who doesn't hesitate to kick $10 million out the door along with his first year coach (Chudzinski), and signs off on paying $3 million + for a player who tweets pot pics as often as he drops passes (Davone Bess), really need to be given more feed from the public trough? Timing's everything.”

Most voters probably don’t even realize the details of the financial workings. The city collects an eight percent tax on every ticket sold at First Energy Stadium, but the city pays the property tax on the land beneath the stadium ($646,000 in 2012).

The sin tax extension is projected to raise $260 million. Business leaders in the city favor the tax and call the investment a good one. The teams love the tax.

Eight of 11 Council members must vote yes to send the tax to voters in May.
At the risk of developing a relationship with everyone in the Twitter-sphere -- admit it, it's a scary thought -- today marks the debut of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag, named partly in honor of David Letterman.

Post your Browns questions on Twitter. Just send them to me @PatMcManamon with #BrownsMail on the post. I'll sort through and find the best and give as honest an answer as I can, time and space and legalities permitting. Your tweets will be embedded in the post, so please, keep them appropriate.

This wouldn't be me if I were entirely serious, so quirky questions are welcome, provided they pass the personal taste test, standards enacted by Sir Laurence Olivier and me.

On to the first edition of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag.

The Cleveland Browns' coaching search took an interesting turn Thursday when word broke via ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Browns will interview Ken Whisenhunt on Saturday.

It’s interesting on several levels, primarily because Whisenhunt interviewed last year and talks broke off because of differences in how the coaching staff should be hired, according to a report from's Jason La Canfora.

It’s also interesting because CEO Joe Banner initially said he did not believe that he would interview anyone this year who also interviewed a year ago. Whether that makes Whisenhunt pause will be interesting.

But mainly it’s interesting because Whisenhunt brings credibility and cachet that other coaches have not.

Did Josh McDaniels removing himself from consideration with the Browns change things and re-open the pool?

Did the Browns realize they needed another viable and experienced option because their candidates are all coordinators who have never been coaches, or in the case of one candidate a quarterbacks coach who has never been a coordinator?

Or did the Browns simply realize that Whisenhunt is a viable candidate who deserves another look?

It would be nice to think the latter.

Whisenhunt is a qualified and more-than-capable coach with head-coaching experience who took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. He coached with the Browns under Chris Palmer, and spent several seasons as offensive coordinator with the Steelers before going to Arizona.

However, he also is interviewing in Detroit and Tennessee, and he could be very attractive to the Lions because he is known as a guy who works effectively with quarterbacks.

Matt Stafford would seem to benefit from Whisenhunt, as would the Lions' offense.

Whatever the reason, if the Browns do have the chance to interview Whisenhunt they’ll have the chance to hire a guy with head-coaching experience.

That has happened twice before in team history -- when Art Modell hired Nick Skorich to replace Blanton Collier and when Randy Lerner hired Eric Mangini to replace Romeo Crennel.

Josh McDaniels, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, interviewed to be the Cleveland Browns coach on Saturday.

Five days later, he decided to stay in New England.

Which answers a question that a few days ago seemed unanswerable: Why would a coach working in a good situation with an all-time great quarterback and Hall of Fame mentor want to take a job with a losing team that fired its coach after one season?

The answer: He wouldn’t.

The news that McDaniels withdrew came from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who reported McDaniels had an excellent conversation with the Browns, but decided he was better off with the Patriots.

McDaniels’ one experience as a head coach in Denver ended poorly. At the age of 37, he doesn’t need to take a chance with another risky situation, which clearly is the situation in Cleveland.

Which leaves the Browns a ways from the “proven winner” they said they would hire when they started the coach search.

They spent Wednesday talking to Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. He’s never been a coordinator, much less a head coach. Though most in the league feel McAdoo is not ready, Browns CEO Joe Banner was with the Eagles when Jeff Lurie hired an unknown quarterbacks coach from Green Bay named Andy Reid.

The Browns also have interviewed Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. They have asked for permission to talk to Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, but he has declined to talk until Denver is out of the playoffs.

The Browns have been rumored to be interested in Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. But Franklin has been linked to Penn State and he met with his Athletic Director at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.

Malzahn agreed to a contract extension at Auburn on Dec. 7.

In addition, rumors that the Browns were interested in Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops turned out to be untrue.

Where this leaves the Browns is anyone’s guess.

A search is never over until it’s over -- to paraphrase Yogi Berra -- and the Browns may have a surprise up their sleeve.

But if they don’t, they are left with some names that haven’t exactly inspired the fan population.

It doesn’t mean the new coach can’t win, but it does make what is already a tough sell a little tougher.