He’s the face of proudly bald men, exquisitely executed goatees and Oakley Straight Jacket sunglasses. He has no time for hyperbole, and is the patron saint of bluntness and truth. He’s Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine, and he might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to the Browns since their ill-fated revival in 1999.
It’s funny how the Browns got to the point of hiring Pettine as their head man. In fact, the process that brought the team to him was so inherently Browns, it’s hard to imagine what would have happened had the search gone the way other teams’ searches go. They stumbled on and off the coaching carousel, unable to convince anyone to take over their head coaching job in the midst of a front office debacle. Then they stumbled right into an interview with Pettine, who blew them away and was offered the job.
The assumptions that followed the hire were predictable. Most people didn’t know much about him, which obviously meant he was a desperate hire. This all made sense because it was the Browns we were talking about after all, whose ineptitude in nearly every facet of running a professional football team had been extensively documented. Given the sheer amount of candidates and reported offers that had been turned down before Pettine accepted his, it may have been desperation.
All of this was happening at a time when Jimmy Haslam and the Browns absolutely had to get it right. They had just fired Rob Chudzinski after one bad season and were about to fire front office failures Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner roughly a month later. What they needed was a coach with a positive track record that was going to bring a common sense approach to a team that needed it badly. There’s no way to know what exactly was said in that interview, but it went something like this (probably):
Haslam: “The Cleveland Browns have lost a lot recently, and our entire organization has looked fairly clueless for some time now. How would you change that?”
Pettine: “I don’t accept losing. I don’t think anything positive can be taken from losing. I won’t lose much because I hate it. Also, I’ve never coached a defense that hasn’t finished at least top ten in the NFL in total defense. You may remember 2009 in particular, when my New York Jets defense was number one.”
Haslam: “Yep, I like this guy.”
Mike Pettine deals in absolutes. Over the past couple of weeks, he has dealt some of the best post-game quotes to ever come from a Browns head coach. After a week one loss to Pittsburgh, he dismissed the euphemism of a moral victory, calling it simply “losing” and saying, “the NFL is a “pass/fail league, and we failed.” After beating the Saints this past week, he said the only thing the win really does is guarantee that the Browns won’t go 0-16.
Cleveland loves this kind of stuff. Whether all of us have the same “blue-collar” mentality or not (not everyone does, don’t be silly), we all pretend to anyway and love it when the Browns reflect that belief. When Clevelanders think of Cleveland Browns football, we crave a tough, no-nonsense persona. We have it in Pettine, but it’s not just him that has made the first two weeks so full of hope.
No matter how great Pettine’s pressers are or how results-based his mentality may seem, it doesn’t matter if the team doesn’t reflect it. So far, they have. It hasn’t been perfect, and if you made a pie chart, the imperfection would still far outweigh the good parts. But the Browns have looked different. They believe in what they’re doing and where they’re going.
So here we are again. The Browns appear to be a solid football team that’s on the rise. They’re feeling good under a new coach and playing an exciting brand of football. They’ve got a good win over the Saints under their belts, and the disastrous first half of week one’s loss to Pittsburgh seems lightyears away already. That’s how we are in Cleveland. We long for success – particularly from the Browns – so much that when we get a little bit of exciting football, we’re sent into a craze of thrilling overreaction. We know we’re overreacting, because we usually get let down a few weeks from now, but we just can’t help it.
One thing we can count on is that Coach Pettine won’t get caught up in it, save for a few celebratory beverages and a cigar that leaves him “feeling it” in the morning. A quick aside, he has nothing to worry about on that front. Much of Cleveland was also “feeling it” on Monday morning, if not later Sunday night, and to hear a Browns head coach admit that he was a tad hungover after a victory celebration couldn’t be more satisfyingly wonderful.
Pettine is the kind of leader that everyone can love. Everyone just wants to win, and he gets it. It’s perhaps the simplest mandate of any job anywhere, even though the right formula can be impossibly complex. There’s much more to be done for the 1-1 Browns, as only two weeks of the long NFL season have gone by. Pettine knows all of this, and will continue to push forward in the same matter-of-fact way that has already endeared him to his fans. He’ll call a win a win, and a loss a loss.
The schedule won’t get easier, and the Browns will certainly take their lumps here and there as even the best teams do. If the winning continues, though, there will be more celebrations on Sundays and many more of those “feeling it” Mondays.
The NFL is a pass/fail league. At least for now, Mike Pettine is the former.