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Cleveland Browns Coaching Search: Getting to Know the Top Contenders

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4. Mike Pettine Jr. – Defensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills

Status: Already interviewed, second interview reportedly scheduled

Resume: Mike Pettine Jr. is the son of Pennsylvania high school football coaching legend, Mike Pettine Sr. After a 4 year career as a safety for the University of Virginia, Pettine returned to his Pennsylvania roots as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh from 1993-1994.

His first head coaching job came for William Tennent high school and after two seasons he took over the football program at North Penn high school and was the subject of an ESPN documentary titled “The Season”, the film highlighted the rivalry between North Penn and Central Bucks West, who at the time was coached by his father. His first break into the NFL came in 2002 as he was hired by the Baltimore Ravens as a coaching assistant.

After two seasons he was promoted to assistant defensive line coach and held that position for one year before being promoted again to outside linebackers coach, a position he held for 4 seasons. In 2009, when Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was named head coach of the New York Jets, he brought Pettine along to be the teams defensive coordinator. Under Pettine’s guidance, the Jets finished 1st(2009), 3rd(2010), 5th(2011), and 8th(2012) in total yards allowed per game. After declining a contract extension from the Jets and heading to Buffalo to become the Bills defensive coordinator under Doug Marrone, Pettine’s defense finished 10th in the NFL in yards allowed in 2013. That makes 5 straight years that Pettine led a defense to a top 10 finish.

Personality: Mike Pettine Jr. was born into a life of football and has embraced every moment of it. He was a part of a no nonsense system with the Jets and carried that over to Buffalo, but the system also emphasizes the enjoyment of the game and he expects his players to play disciplined but with passion. His knowledge for the X’s and O’s of the game earns him immediate respect from those within the locker room but his humble nature and affable demeanor make him approachable and well liked by his players.

Pettine is a natural leader who has excelled at every stop he’s made. Manish Mehta an NFL/Jets columnist for the New York Daily News who has followed Pettine’s career closely claims that Pettine is “destined to be a head coach” and that he “will have an elite defense” wherever he goes.

Schematic Preference: Pettine uses the word “multiple” often when discussing his schemes. While with the New York Jets under Rex Ryan, Pettine ran a base 3-4 defense, while running a 4-3 base defense last season in Buffalo. Pettine will adapt his basic concepts to the talent he has in fold, but the principles of his “hybrid” or “multiple” scheme will always remain the same. Pettine looks to create confusion with constant pre-snap movement, something that Browns fans may remember from former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Rex’s brother. The idea is to disguise the defense’s true intentions, and catch the offense off guard after the ball is snapped.

Pettine uses the the acronym K.I.L.L when discussing his defensive philosophy, which stands for “Keep It Likeable and Learnable”. Pettine looks for fast and physical players who play within the system with fundamentals and accountability. Communication is key for his players, and creating pressure and sound tackling is the name of the game. The offense Pettine would look to install will depend largely on the coordinator he brings in, but the entire team will surely take on the personality of its head coach.

Free Agency Impact: The Browns do not have nearly as many holes on the defensive side of the football as they do on offense, but there is still work to be done. One area that could be targeted for an upgrade would be at inside linebacker, where a physical thumper could be added to work alongside the athletic yet undersized D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson. Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots has developed into one of the toughest run defenders in the NFL and is slated to hit free agency. Pettine is surely familiar with Spikes having played against him twice a year for the past 4 seasons, but it remains to be seen whether or not New England allows him to hit the market.

Some lower level inside linebackers who may fit the profile would be veteran Joe Mays from Houston or talented yet injury prone Pat Angerer from Indianapolis. A pair of free agent safeties could ultimately interest the Browns under Pettine as Jairus Byrd and Jim Leonhard are set to hit the free agent market. Byrd is one of the best free safeties in the league and could be targeted if the Browns are unable to sign or franchise T.J. Ward, while Leonhard has played for Pettine in Baltimore, New York, and Buffalo. Also keep an eye on physical Ravens safety James Ihedigbo, who played under Pettine while with the Jets.

Draft Impact: Similar to Dan Quinn before him, Pettine’s influence could place an impact defender atop the draft board for any of the Browns top picks. Buffalo Bulls outside linebacker Khalil Mack could creep into the conversation at #4 if the team doesn’t fall for one of the top quarterback prospects and Jadeveon Clowney is off the board. Mack is a smart and physical player who can line up just about anywhere in the front seven and wreak havoc. He could be considerably dangerous in a defense which utilizes movement and deception the way that Pettine’s scheme does.

Safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and linebacker C.J. Mosely are used to playing a physical and disciplined brand of football under Nick Saban at Alabama, and both players could factor into the #26 or #35 picks. Stanford inside linebacker Shayne Skov could be a player of interest on the drafts second day, Skov is instinctive and plays with sound fundamentals and could push for a large role early similar to the way that Kiko Alonso excelled in the middle for the Bills under Pettine.

After Pettine watched Mark Sanchez struggle and ultimately unravel without a running game and limited receiving talent supporting him in New York, Pettine could place an emphasis on the skill players as well as the protection surrounding the quarterback. Regardless of who is under center for the Browns in 2014, the team could target some additional help in the receiving game and with an amazing amount of depth at receiver in the 2014 draft, the Browns could add an impact receiver like Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis or DaVante adams from Fresno State on the 2nd or even 3rd day of the draft.