There’s a chance that Mike Pettine could be just the right guy to lead the Cleveland Browns back to the winning ways that they enjoyed prior to 1999. He said all the right things in his opening press conference, preaching toughness, talking about needing to “bloody your nose,” and sharing his personal mantra “Don’t look for a better job, do a better job.” He addressed the notion that he wasn’t the front office’s first choice well and expressed his desire to be a success at the job. He’s very confident and talked multiple times about “betting on myself.” At the end of the day I came away liking Mike Pettine and feeling fine with him as the new football coach of my favorite NFL team.
However, I’ve had this same feeling before. I’ve watched enough of these introductory press conferences to know that the new coach always says the right thing and that unless you’re bringing in a high school coach with a career losing record it’s not too hard to spin anyone’s resume into sounding pretty good. They always win the press conference, but they have yet to actually win any football games.
So you’ll excuse me if I don’t champion Mike Pettine as a great hire or express my undying belief that he’ll be worlds better than Rob Chudzinski. I don’t want to come anywhere close to giving Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner anything that could be mistaken for “credit” with how they’ve run the football operations of the Browns to this point. The fact is that since they’ve come to take over the team they’ve done nothing but talk about how smart they are and how we’d notice positive changes soon upon their arrival. They’ve only been on the job for two years and they’re already on their second head coach (that they’ve hired) and still don’t have a QB. And whether or not anyone wants to admit it, Mike Pettine isn’t a whole lot different than Rob Chudzinski. Both are un-proven coordinators, they’re just coming from different sides of the ball.
The problem with this team is that the current men at the top of the organization believe that they’re the smartest men in any room that they walk into. But the longer that Haslam and Banner have been around the more they start to resemble the emperor without clothes. They prance about Berea as if everything is grand and they’re in control and they’ll get this thing right, completely unaware that to everyone watching they look like complete and utter fools who don’t realize they aren’t wearing any pants.
I get that in order to rise to the place where you’re running an NFL team you have to have had a certain level of professional success which is typically tied to a significant level of personal pride and self-confidence. But Banner, in particular, carries this almost smug attitude to where he’s offended that anyone would doubt his abilities. I really believe that he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else running NLF teams. I believe that when they (rightfully) chose to relieve Pat Shurmur of his coaching duties after the 2012 season that they believed they had the gravitas to bring in a truly great coach. They smartly set their sights on Chip Kelly and for a minute it seemed like they were going to land the hottest name in coaching. We’ll never know why discussions finally broke down and why a deal could never be reached. But there was something that happened in that meeting that turned Kelly off about the Browns and it’s not much of a stretch—judging by the events that have transpired since—to believe it had something to do with Joe Banner and his massive ego and need for control. Banner probably believed that he would be able to get Kelly because he’s Joe Banner and Joe Banner doesn’t fail. When they unexpectedly got turned down they were forced to go back home to Cleveland with their tail between their legs and reportedly had to “reboot” their coaching search. It was as if they didn’t think there was even a possibility that Kelly would turn them down and hadn’t even made contingency plans for such an occurrence.
Since failing to land Kelly (who obviously went on to have a very successful first season coaching the Eagles) Banner and Haslam consistently got the “thanks but no thanks” response for all the top coaching candidates including the likes of Nick Saban. Last year they landed they landed on Chudzinski whom they championed as being “the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format that we want to have here in Cleveland.” Haslam also said of Chud that he is “tremendously innovative” and “one of the brightest, if not the brightest, young mind in the business.” Before a year had gone by they were already admitting failure with that hire and their assessment of Chud’s ability to lead a team. Not that they would actually come anywhere close to accepting any blame for Chud’s failure. Haslam said on December 30th of the next coach that they would bring in “a strong winner who knows how to win football games.” Again the bravado of the Browns leaders came out in their belief that they were so smart and such great leaders that they would be able to bring in the best potential candidate. They reportedly had interest in all the hot young coordinators of playoff teams like Josh McDaniels, Adam Gase, and Dan Quinn—all of whom again told the Browns “thanks, but no thanks.” They reportedly keyed in on the top college candidates but were also spurned by Gus Malzahn, James Franklin, and Bill O’Brien. When they struck out on all those candidates they finally came around and interviewed Pettine—two and a half weeks after firing Chudzinski.
Blind followers of Banner and Haslam will contend that if the Browns had hired Pettine right away (which they could have done since the Bills obviously didn’t make the playoffs) they would have gotten killed for not seeking out other candidates. But it’s impossible to miss the fact that they could have at least started the interview process with Pettine earlier than they did. If he was high on their list of candidates that surely would have been the case. If he was as highly thought of back at the beginning of the process (like we’re being led to believe now by all these people coming out of the woodworks talking about how good a coach he is) then he would have been interviewed for one of the other half-dozen head coach openings. But the Browns were the only ones who thought Pettine was worthy of being interviewed for a head coach position and didn’t come around to that realization for over two weeks and after most of the other jobs had been filled. They didn’t interview Pettine until all the other top candidates had turned them down. At least Chud had interviewed for a couple head coaching positions before he got the Browns job, even if he didn’t get any the offseason he got the Browns job. The fact is that no one else thought that Mike Pettine was even worthy enough to receive an interview for a head coach position. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be a good coach. But it certainly doesn’t provide any optimism as far as I’m concerned.
Recent revelations appear that the Pettine still may not have been the guy that they really wanted. As recently as Wednesday there were still other candidates that the Browns wanted to interview—likely Quinn of Seattle. I made the following observations yesterday morning before the news of Pettine’s hire came through…
And it appears that I was probably right. Pettine disclosed in an interview with WGR 550 that he was close to pulling out of the Browns job because it was taking them too long to make a decision. That was likely conveyed to the Browns through Pettine’s agent. Knowing that Quinn wasn’t a sure thing to even take the job if offered they didn’t want to run the risk of losing out on the only other available guy who actually wanted the job in Pettine. So instead of waiting on Quinn or someone else they settled for Pettine. And I don’t think I’m out of place when I use “settle.” If they really liked Pettine so much they would have offered him the job after his second interview which took place on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl. Instead they left Mobile without offering Pettine the job. Their hand was forced by the news that Pettine was thinking of pulling out if he wasn’t offered the job soon.
But let’s never mind the facts of the situation or let that distract you from the glowing remarks that Haslam and Banner gave Pettine at his introductory press conference yesterday. Haslam said of Pettine that he “brings exactly what we think we need for our organization.” He also said of Pettine that “He’s smart, he’s innovative” and that “I think he will be a perfect fit for our team.” Any of that sound familiar? I could have switched around the quotes about Chud and Pettine and you wouldn’t have even known the difference.
It was a savvy move by Haslam and Banner to go with the single podium at the presser so that they wouldn’t be present to receive questions and everything could be about the new coach. It was also a gutless one that shows their lack of ability to take accountability for how they’ve failed the fans of this organization so far. If they were really men and great leaders they would have stood up there and taken questions as well. When introducing Chud they sat up there flanking the new coach all proud of the great work they had done and willing to take any questions because they believed they were smarter than everyone else for finding Chudzinski. This time they shrunk from the spotlight, a sure sign that they weren’t as brazenly sold on Pettine as they had been about their first hire. Maybe they’re finally learning some lessons that you can’t continue to over-promise and under-deliver. But Banner and Haslam’s choice to not stand up there and face the music was one of sheer cowardice. Their “purposefully…methodical” search has brought them a coach that doesn’t meat up to the standard they set as a “strong winner.” It doesn’t mean that he can’t be a winner, he just hasn’t proven anything yet. Calling Pettine a “strong winner” is nothing more than a hopeful projection.
Furthermore, in his letter to Browns fans on January 15th Haslam made the following declaration:
“We understood from the beginning that if we wanted to speak to all of the coaches on our list that we may need to wait until they have completed their participation in the playoffs. We are prepared to wait as long as necessary because this is a very important decision.”
By not waiting until after the Super Bowl to see if Quinn or Gase was willing to take the job Haslam failed on that promise to “wait as long as necessary.” Instead they panicked and, worried that they’d lose out on all their candidates, settled for Pettine.
Again, none of this means that Mike Pettine can’t be a good or even a great coach. The Browns may have lucked into a great hire. But for fans to sit back and buy all the BS that Haslam and Banner are spewing about how their process brought them the best possible coach is just sad and pathetic. We should demand more out of our leaders than what we’ve gotten from Haslam and Banner. They promised that it wouldn’t be “same old Browns” anymore and that we’d see winning very soon. Yet they’ve already fired their hand-picked head coach and somehow managed to win fewer games than the team had in the previous season.
I’ll support and root for Pettine, that’s not a problem. He’s the head coach of my football team I’m behind him 100%. Heck, I rooted for poor hopeless Pat Shurmur till the bitter end. I want to see my team win. I couldn’t care less who the coach is as long as they win.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll just sit ideally by and golf clap for Haslam and Banner and allow myself to be brain-washed into thinking they got the best possible guy for the job. They are the reason why no one else wanted what is supposedly “a very attractive position.” They are the ones who fired an undermanned coach who thought the team was playing for next year after only one season and didn’t consider the ramifications that decision would have on their pool of candidates. Why would Gus Malzahn want to leave a school where he’s coming off a trip to the National Championship game for a place where he’s going to be on a short leash? Why would Bill O’Brien pick Cleveland where a coach only gets one year to win over Houston that gave Gary Kubiak eight seasons? Why would Adam Gase want to leave Peyton Manning or Josh McDaniels leave Tom Brady for a place that hasn’t found a viable QB for 15 years? And in a business where most of these coaches are incredibly smart and have been working closely with players for decades, why would anyone want to come to a place where they won’t have final say on the roster they’ll be judged by in favor of a guy who has no background in football personnel? If you want to talk about qualifications for the head coach then maybe we should examine Banner’s qualifications as a personnel man.
I will keep rooting for the Browns. Nothing will change that. But I have no faith in the men currently running the football operations of the team and their general tone deafness to their own shortcomings is disturbing in the least. They continue to carry about their business wondering why the fans can’t see their brilliance at work when the reality of the situation is that they haven’t done anything yet that could be mistaken for “smart.”
So you’ll forgive me if I’m not throwing a party this morning because Haslam and Banner finally got around to settling on the only living human being who actually wanted the job a coach that 95% of fans had never heard of until a week ago. I’ll reserve my praise for if they ever actually start winning some games.
 For the life of me I have no idea why they wouldn’t take a look at Greg Roman who has had incredible success running an offense with a variety of skill-sets for his QB. It’s never a sure thing hiring coordinators but given how many people they interviewed it’s beyond me why wouldn’t at least sit Roman down for a chat.