Mike Pettine's candidacy with Browns more intriguing for Buffalo than Cleveland
Cleveland Browns fans aren't as excited about the possibility of Mike Pettine as Buffalo Bills fans are worried about losing him.
Cleveland sounds like it's in full-scale wallow mode over the Browns' coaching search. At least that's the vibe I got during this morning's segment with "Kiley & Booms" on 92.3 The Fan.
I totally get it. As a native Clevelander and someone who has covered sports in Western New York for 13 years, I understand what a tortured fan base endures through recurring failures and transition misfires.
But, as Bills fans are fully aware, Pettine shouldn't be dismissed as just another uninspiring option.
Browns diehards, if they'd heard of him at all, likely knew Pettine only in vague terms prior to Wednesday, when the Bills gave permission for their defensive coordinator to interview today.
Unknowns are tough sells. Fans want household names, especially when other teams around the NFL are filling their vacancies.
Every new Browns coach seems to come with some sort of Squeamish Factor, and Pettine would qualify. If hired, he would not make Browns fans comfortable with or excited about the decision.
Pettine still could be viewed as an unproven commodity. Buffalo's defense had a fantastic turnaround season, but it was only Pettine's first as an independent coordinator.
He was Rex Ryan's sidekick for 11 years with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. Although Pettine was the Jets' coordinator for four years, the defense was Ryan's; Pettine was more like the caretaker.
However, here are some reasons why Browns fans could come around on the idea:
Pettine took essentially the same defense that was among the worst in team history under Dave Wannstedt and morphed it into a dangerous group. Buffalo ranked second in sacks and second in interceptions.
Versus the Browns' AFC North opponents, the Bills allowed only seven defensive touchdowns. For a 6-10 team with shoddy quarterback play, that's not bad, especially against the defending Super Bowl champs, the eventual division champs and the Steelers at Heinz Field.
The Bills made Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco throw a career-worst five interceptions and should've beaten the Bengals before losing in overtime.
The Bills lost to the Browns, but the Bills' defense was strong that day. The Browns were aided by EJ Manuel's knee injury, Travis Benjamin's punt return TD and T.J. Ward's interception return TD.
Every type of player -- when you consider phases of development -- had a big season for Buffalo. Pro Bowlers (defensive tackle Kyle Williams, safety Jairus Byrd) kept being Pro Bowlers. A player who runs hot and cold (Mario Williams) had one of his best years. A disappointing high draft pick (Marcell Dareus) had a Pro Bowl-caliber, breakout season. A labeled bust (Jerry Hughes) enjoyed a career year after what seemed like a throwaway trade with the Indianapolis Colts. A second-round rookie (Kiko Alonso) played every snap and is a top defensive rookie of the year candidate.
Still, Bills fans shouldn't get too worried about losing Pettine yet. He's late to the Browns' coaching search, and the Browns could pursue an assistant on one of the four teams still in the postseason.
Maybe Pettine will bomb the interview.
Has he ever gone through a genuine interview process before?
His first college job was through Pitt defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach, who played for Pettine's dad in high school. Driesbach served as Bills linebackers coach this season but was fired Tuesday.
Pettine broke into the NFL with an entry-level Ravens job, became close with Rex Ryan and trailed him to the Jets.
When the Bills hired Doug Marrone to coach the Bills, there didn't seem to be much of a coordinator search. Marrone hired Pettine quickly.
Pettine very well could have been waiting for this moment all his life. Perhaps he has binders full of ideas to share with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi.
Even so, today's interview will be a new kind of big moment for Pettine.
And uncomfortably familiar to Browns fans.