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Browns finally hire Mike Pettine away from Bills

Browns finally hire Mike Pettine away from Bills The Bills will have to look for a new defensive coordinator with Mike Pettine leaving for the head job in Cleveland. (News file photo)


Throughout another unfulfilling Buffalo Bills season, new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's work was a glowing highlight.

Flip that switch.

Pettine's gone, and for the fifth time in six seasons, the Bills will name another defensive coordinator.

The Cleveland Browns just announced they have hired Pettine to be their new head coach.

The Bills must regroup. Pettine could take some of his assistants with him to Cleveland. Linebackers coach Jim O'Neil, defensive line coach Anthony Weaver and assistant secondary coach Samson Brown came to the Bills with Pettine from the New York Jets.

Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the front office has a list of coordinator candidates ready to go and would begin the search to replace Pettine immediately.

The only position coach on the Bills' staff with previous NFL defensive coordinator experience was secondary coach Donnie Henderson. He ran the Detroit Lions' defense in 2006 and the Jets' in 2004 and 2005.

The most notable defensive minds looking for work are former Bills coach Wade Phillips, former 49ers coach Mike Singletary and two recently fired head coaches, Jim Schwartz of the Lions and Greg Schiano of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Former St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is a special assistant for the Baltimore Ravens. Former Browns and Jets coach Eric Mangini is a San Francisco 49ers consultant. Each could be interested in being a coordinator again.

Respected assistants who could be ready for promotions include 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Seattle Seahawks passing-game coordinator Rocky Seto, Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler and Minnesota Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly.

Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson left the New England Patriots on Tuesday.

Browns fans certainly will view Pettine as an unproven commodity, something they've grown disgusted with over the years. The Browns fired Rob Chudzinski after one year. Before him, Pat Shurmur was a rookie coach who lasted two seasons.

Bills fans, however, are disappointed to see Pettine leave. He's the first Bills assistant to become another team's head coach since the Indianapolis Colts hired Ted Marchibroda 22 years ago.

Buffalo was a wreck before Pettine arrived. Previous defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt ran a stale, passive 4-3 scheme that got trampled on a weekly basis.

Pettine took essentially the same defense and morphed into a decorated unit that caused opponents trouble every week.

Four of the Bills' 11 starters -- pass-rusher Mario Williams, defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dares, safety Jairus Byrd -- were selected for the Pro Bowl. Inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, is a top candidate for defensive rookie of the year.

Pettine helped salvage a few careers, too. Players who looked like busts enjoyed remarkable seasons, namely pass-rusher Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin and safety Aaron Williams.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan declared the Bills fielded one of the NFL's elite front-seven units. Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy praised Kyle Williams and Dareus as the best interior duo.

The Bills ranked 10th in total defense, 28th in run defense and fourth in pass defense.

They were gashed for long runs, allowing a league-high 19 rushes of 20-plus yards, but they hardly resembled themselves from the previous season.

The 2013 Bills were aggressive and dangerous. They set a club record and ranked second in the NFL with 57 sacks. They were second in interceptions.

The Bills allowed only seven defensive touchdowns against the Browns' AFC North opponents, which included the defending Super Bowl champs, the eventual division champs and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco throw a career-worst five interceptions against them. The Bills should've beaten the playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals, but lost in overtime.

The Bills lost to the Browns, but not for defensive reasons. Bills quarterback EJ Manuel suffered one of his knee injuries, and the Browns scored on a punt return and a Jeff Tuel interception.

But many at One Bills Drive and around the league are surprised Pettine is getting a shot to be head coach so quickly.

Just a year ago, he struck out on his own. He was Rex Ryan's sidekick for 11 years, breaking into the NFL with an entry-level job on the Ravens' staff in 2002. Ryan was a Ravens assistant at the time. The two grew close.

When the Jets hired Ryan in 2009, he brought Pettine with him. Although Pettine was the Jets' coordinator for four years, Ryan truly ran the defense.

Pettine runs a version of the 46 defense Buddy Ryan introduced with the Chicago Bears three decades ago.

The 46 didn't catch on at the time but has the past couple years through Buddy Ryan's sons and their protégés. Rex Ryan fields a strong unit each year with the Jets. Rob Ryan improved an historically bad New Orleans Saints defense into one of the league's best in 2013.

Bob Sutton, the Jets' linebackers coach under Pettine, installed a 46 scheme with the Kansas City Chiefs this season. Sutton's defense propelled the Chiefs from a 2-14 record to the playoffs in one year.

Given the complexities of the 46 defense and the fact Pettine has been learning about it for the past dozen years, he brings an intriguing background to the table few other candidates can match.

  • Leo Dougherty

    I for 1 think it's a good hire. Hate taking a good guy, from an AWESOME fan base. Hopefully they can replace him w/ the DC from Seattle. That would be cool for you all! Anyway. I'm grateful at least. Just wanted to say that. :-) :-) :-)

    • MaoSayTongue

      You goldern Ohio clodbusters are a disgrace to the Confederacy!

      • Leo Dougherty

        Ha, ha. Oookaaaay... Thanks for joining the discussion. Also, NOT ALL BROWNS' fans are from Ohio. There are chapters around the world. Good luck w/ your confederate thing. 😉

  • jp bills

    Bills against the Wall on this one. We need a proven d coordinator . Think positive Bills Fans we may be getting someone better!!!!

    • MaoSayTongue

      Jerry Glanville FTW!

  • The General


  • JordanThen

    Wade Phillips! Son of Bum!

    • MaoSayTongue

      Brandon would lose his job for even allowing Phillips to be interviewed.

    • ptato22

      No more retreads!

  • Paul Bruhns

    Pettine must have wanted this job pretty badly. I wish him well. He did a good job as DC here this past year. We need to keep that going, and figure out how to stop the run without sacrificing the "attack" style these guys excelled at under coach Pettine.

    • MaoSayTongue

      He took it because the Bills fired his ILB coach, Dickstein--or sumpin like that.

      • ptato22

        Well, maybe he's a bad coach. The Bills gave up the most runs of over 20 yards this year - right up the middle.

      • Jamie Rozek

        So many annoying assumptions.

  • PaulR

    I actually feel bad for Pettine. The Browns are more dysfunctional than the Bills, especially now. They have a QB controversy/problem and not a lot of talent.

    • Bill W

      Not to mention an owner who is having some major legal issues to deal with.

      Best wishes Mike, the Bills will definitely miss your skills!

      • Phillip

        Agreed, very little talent, unless you consider 6 pro bowlers talent.

  • E.A. Richards

    Shaved head and a goatee. That's a real original look. You never see that these days

    • anemia716


  • Heywood Jablomee

    "Former Browns and Jets coach Eric Mangini is a San Francisco 49ers consultant Eric Mangini"

    Stellar editing from the News again.

  • Roy Stevenson

    Browns must really be hurting. Pettine did a nice job but it wasn't as though the Bill's D was awesome. They came out flat in a lot of games and couldn't make stops at key times in several games that made the difference. Lot of high draft picks on the Bills D - not automatic that they are going to be good (see Wannstadt, D.) but the raw material is there.

    • Jamie Rozek

      It's amazing how quickly people forget how BAD the D was two years ago.
      The progress was pretty remarkable considering the players didn't change.

  • TN Tom

    Godspeed Mike. Thanks for getting us started. Wade Phillips is my choice. Had he not left (or been left) years ago we would have made the playoffs at least once in the last 15 years.

    • MaoSayTongue

      Welfare Ralphie absolutely despises the man. Don't you remember all that went down?

      If Brandon tries to hire Phillips, Brandon will be looking for work too.

    • ptato22

      Time for a new name with energy and something to prove.

  • Rich

    Bring Wade back, he knows his way around WNY.

    • MaoSayTongue

      Welfare Ralphie is still alive: no Wade.

    • Archibald Sauerbrun

      I agree!! Hell even Gregg Williams. He was an idiot as head coach, but like Wade a brilliant defensive guy! Although I like Wade better as a person.

  • Robert McAvoy

    The Bills have recently (1-3 years) made some good decisions, some mediocre and some bad.
    The Bad: 1. Letting Levitre go 2. Signing Fitz to a big contract 3. Keeping Gailey as long as they did 4. Not signing Byrd
    The Mediocre: 1. Hiring an unproven HC from an mediocre team in a mediocre college conference 2. Drafting EJ 3. Putting Glenn at left OT
    The Good: 1. Hiring Pettine 2. Resiging Stevie 3. Signing Mario 4. Trading down their #1 pick for extra picks in 2013 draft 5. Drafting Kiko
    Now, one of the few good decisions, they no longer have after one year. A real shame. I hope they get a decent DC (Wilson is OK, Spags might be OK if he learned anything in last 3 years, and Singletary, if he is able to work effectively with the players and can he coach a 46 defense). Well, Marrone will probably want another yes-man from his past. Let's hope for a good hire, but Marrone and Whaley have a built in excuse for another losing season..."we lost our DC late in the process."

  • phatman54

    all is not loss yet bills fans we still have the players in place and yes pettine did a good job. i question why we could not stop the run ? my mom could have gained 100 yards on us on a weekly basis. we gave up a lot to stop the pass and the person they had in mind to stop plays for the hated pats t,. brady .the browns have asked to speak to the bills linebacker coach i think he is gone. promote d. henderson from within the job he did with our young dbs last season was great

  • MaoSayTongue

    Desperate measures for desperate times . . .

    Jerry Glanville


  • Millhouse

    Have to believe it will be Henderson, unless Marrone brings in another buddy from outside the organization. Schwartz and Spags are former DC's and are not hot commodities for another HC job; the talent on the Bills D is good so they would probably be interested. Can't see Wade coming back or Singletary coming to Buffalo.

  • Jeff

    Good grief not Schiano.

  • Fennario

    Way to be contrary Cleveland, no one else would take a coordinator from a 6-10 team but you guys may be onto a lot more loosing seasons.

    • Jamie Rozek

      What a ridiculously ridiculous statement.

  • ptato22

    Well, he might get a very high quality QB with pick 4 and then another first rounder with pick 26. Who knows? I just think he doesn't have the right experience yet to be a head coach, but some guys just know how to get the best out of their players. The Ravens and the Steelers are on their way down and Cinci is unpredictable. He'll either be out of a job in 2 years or look like a genius.

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.