The Cleveland Browns have had a rough offseason thus far, but things look like they're about to be getting a bit better. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Cleveland is making a strong push to hire Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their 15th full-time head coach.
This would not only be a good opportunity for Pettine to get his feet wet as a head coach in the NFL, but he's also the best possible choice the Browns could've made.
Pettine has made a name for himself as one of better defensive minds in the NFL through the construction and execution of a solid defense in Buffalo and with the New York Jets, where he also served as a defensive coordinator.
He certainly wasn't a name that was at the top of a lot of teams' radars, or even Cleveland's, but considering they've exhausted almost every other option, he's definitely a good choice.
The Browns were still interested in interviewing another pair of coordinators—one offensive, one defensive—but Adam Gase and Dan Quinn aren't allowed to interview with another team while theirs is still in the playoffs.
With events like the Senior Bowl mere days away, the Browns couldn't waste any more time waiting to interview guys they may not even want to make an offer to. They have to strike now and get the man who will help them more than anyone else available, and Pettine is that man.
In looking at what he did with the Bills in just one season, it's clear he knows what he's doing; Buffalo's defense was vastly improved between 2012-13. Pettine coached up the Bills' defense quickly and effectively—the unit tallied 57 sacks and 23 interceptions (both were second-most in the NFL).
One could argue that, maybe, the players just stepped their game up, but I beg to differ for one simple reason: the system changed a lot more than the personnel did. The Bills did have a couple of new faces on the defensive side of the ball, but the starters were largely the same as they were the year before; Pettine was the difference.
If there is any question regarding his legitimacy as a defensive mastermind, look no further than the man in the hood himself. Bill Belichick has commended Pettine before on his ability to keep an offense guessing, and those are weighted words coming from arguably the best head coach of all time. Belichick had more to say regarding Pettine's defensive savvy:
They do a good job mixing it up. You just can’t say, 'Well, they're going to blitz us every play.' They're not going to do that but you can't say they're not going to blitz you either because they do. It keeps you honest and I think that's why they're having a lot of success.
Belichick isn't the only NFL coach to speak highly of Pettine. FootballScoop reached out to a couple of coaches regarding Pettine, and here's what they had to say:
“Most competitive person I know” “Believes in complete honesty with players and coaches. Tells guys the truth, not what they want to hear"— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) January 23, 2014
“Great evaluator of talent…free agents, draft prospects…the best I have been around"— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) January 23, 2014
“Good motivator. Takes advantage of players strengths and puts them in position to make plays” “Been in league 10 yrs, top 10 d every year"— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) January 23, 2014
The Browns have a team filled to the brim with talent and Pettine could be the key to unlocking their potential. Although they are without a franchise quarterback, they hold the fourth overall pick in this coming draft and Pettine will have a solid crop of passers to choose from.
Worst case, they still have Brian Hoyer who played well at times in 2013 but had an early end to his season due to injury.
No one is expecting the Browns to turn things around like Kansas City did this year, but they will be improved.
Pettine's situation coming into the Browns organization is similar to when Rex Ryan became the head coach of the Jets. A struggling team with several good pieces, no future at the quarterback position and a top-10 pick in the draft. The result of the following season? AFC Championship. Now, there's no way to say that Pettine will definitely have the same result, but it's definitely possible.
At 47 years old, he's still relatively young and, if things go well, he could have a nice, long career with the team. The Pettine-Cleveland marriage seems to be an inevitable one, and it looks like the Browns made the right choice.