Cleveland Browns: If team makes coaching switch, who should it be?


Oct 11, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine stands on the sideline during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns may be in the market for a new head coach after the season. If so, who should it be?

The Cleveland Browns enter the month of December in a familiar position.

The team is currently residing in the basement of the AFC North Division, have lost six in a row (and 14 of their past 16 dating back to last season), and are trotting out yet another starting quarterback on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

It wouldn’t be December in Cleveland, either, without the annual call for yet another coaching change.

If head coach Mike Pettine is relieved of his duties shortly after the regular season comes to a close, whoever takes over will be the Browns’ eighth full-time head coach since the team returned in 1999, and the fourth head coach since Jimmy Haslam took over as owner in 2012.

As hard as it is to find something nice to say about former owner Art Modell, of the seven full-time head coaches he hired, he gave all but one more than two years to try to figure things out.

Let’s assume that Haslam has seen enough, though, and is ready to fill our January and February with yet another coaching search.

So who can we expect the Browns to look at?

Only once have the Browns hired an experienced head coach in franchise history and that was a disaster in Eric Mangini. Now, from the darkest corners of Browns Twitter we’ve heard calls for the team to hire a “Super Bowl-winning” coach. But going back through the list of head coaches who have recently won a Super Bowl, we find a problem with that plan.

Since 2004, these are the coaches who can toss a Super Bowl ring on the table for Haslam to look at: Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Tom Coughlin, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton, Mike McCarthy, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and John Harbaugh.

Cowher hasn’t coached since 2006, while Dungy hasn’t worked a sideline since 2008; those ships have long since sailed. (Even if, by now, Cowher owns have the homes in Strongsville).

The rest of the list? Well, they are all currently employed, so banking on one of them being fired and, in turn, being willing to come to Cleveland seems like quite the long shot.

So let’s take the “proven winner” notion off the table, which means we are back to where we always are when the Browns conduct a coaching search: looking at the next “hot” coordinator.

Jul 31, 2015; Pittsford, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn instructs Karlos Williams (40) during training camp at St. John Fisher College. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen created a list of 10 coaches who they believe are next in line to be head coaches. While it is certainly not the definitive list, it is as good as any place to start.

Even though it is not mandated by the NFL, whenever a team makes a coaching change they tend to go in the opposite direction of the coach they just replaced. If they had a “hard-nosed” coach running things, they will often hire a “players” coach the next time. Firing an offensive-minded coach? Well, then, you’re in line for a defense first guy the next time around.

Because of that unwritten codicil in the NFL handbook, we can probably cross off Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

We think it is safe to say we can cross Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and former Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan off the list, for obvious reasons. And former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano should be a non-starter in any conversation.

Let’s narrow the field a bit more, shall we?

  • Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase was a focus of interest the last time the Browns went through this, but had no interest in the job. Two years later, and with the Browns in worst shape in several key areas, why would he change his mind?
  • Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who crashed and burned spectacularly in Kansas City while claiming the team was secretly recording his phone conversations and had bugged the team’s offices.
  • Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would be an intriguing choice, but he is also reportedly all but signed to be the next coach of the Miami Dolphins. Not sure how the Browns would match up in a bidding war with the Dolphins.
  • Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels – just no, already, to anyone else from the Bill Belichick coaching tree.
  • Jaguars assistant to the head coach Doug Marrone, who quit on the Buffalo Bills after two years because he thought a better opportunity awaited him. Not sure we would be comfortable having someone with that kind of decision making running the Browns.
  • UCLA head coach Jim Mora, who got worse in each of his three years with the Atlanta Falcons and then went 5-11 in his one year with the Seattle Seahawks. It’s possible he could be the next Pete Carroll, but it’s probably more likely that he is the same Jim Mora.

Wow, this isn’t easy, is it?

That brings us down to two names on the list:

Buffalo Bills assistant head coach Anthony Lynn who, according to the ESPN, the New York Jets “really liked” when they were searching for a coach last year. Lynn also has the backing of current Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan.

“I can understand why [there is interest],” Ryan said in an ESPN story. “Being a former player, he’s got Super Bowl rings as a player. He’s smart. He’s been with me now for seven years. So he’s a great football coach. And the other thing is, he’s got the respect of all the players. I’ve seen him work with veteran players, young players. It makes no difference.

“He had [LaDainian Tomlinson] at the end of his career, and L.T. was pass blocking better than he ever had, and took a lesser role, and here’s a first-ballot Hall of Fame back. So this guy can coach them all. He can coach the special players, the guys that hanging on type players, developing players, he can coach them all and he’s great for our team. But if he gets that opportunity to become a head coach, that would be awesome.”

There is a lot to like in Ryan’s endorsement, but one has to wonder if Haslam would be interested in going back to a member of Ryan’s staff for his next head coach.

Jul 25, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula talks with head coach Ron Rivera during training camp at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves us with the final name on the list, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who is in his third season with the team. According to ESPN, Shula has “brought together a Panthers offense that lacked weapons and elevated it to levels few expected.”

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“I’ve been pleased with him since Mike has started calling for us,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said earlier this year. “When you get a chance to sit down and talk with him and listen to his thoughts and listen what he’s looking at, and I look at opposing defenses a lot to see what they’re doing, and I hear Mike talk about it and hear other coaches talk about it, I’m excited about it.

“I think our approach is very good and having the ability to run the ball when we want to and when they know we have to – if you can do that, then you give yourself the chance to win.”

There are definitely some positives in those comments, and there’s no doubt the Browns marketing department would love to have the opportunity to trade off on the Shula name. Of course, if the Panthers go deep in the playoffs, Shula will not be available for an interview for a while, and you just never know how patient Haslam and the search committee will be.

We are getting ahead of ourselves a bit, though. There is still a lot of football to be played and plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Browns and the head coaching position.

But there is one indisputable truth that has become painfully obvious over the years when it comes the Browns and their head coaches.

Firing the head coach is always the easy part; finding his replacement is far, far more difficult.