Mike Pettine’s worst-case scenario may be coming to fruition


Is Mike Pettine’s future as head coach of the Cleveland Browns dependent on quarterback Johnny Manziel failing?

First off let’s get this out-of-the-way. Johnny Manziel looked pretty good against an awful San Francisco 49ers team on Sunday. Some perspective is needed, which most fans are doing a good job at keeping, because looking good versus San Fransisco is a lot different from looking good against Seattle, Kansas City or Pittsburgh.

Regardless of San Francisco or Seattle, Manziel did what he has done every game he’s played in – he looked better than he did the game before. He’s making mistakes, but he’s learning from them. He’s standing tall (enter stature jokes here) in the pocket, he’s going through his progressions, heck he’s even sliding. It was against a bad team, but he moved the ball against Pittsburgh several weeks ago, too. The portion of the Browns fan base that don’t like Manziel can choose to ignore it, but the young quarterback is improving.

What does this all have to do with head coach Mike Pettine you ask? Pettine has done something I can’t recall another head coach doing in the history of professional football. By benching players he doesn’t like (or is perceived to not like), Pettine is in a place where winning is the worst way to keep his own job because one of those players has an edict from above the head coach’s head to start.

It’s a paradox, but the Cleveland Browns head coach will have more job security if the Cleveland Browns lose than if they win one or two of their last three games. Let that sink in and then let me explain.

It is incredibly well-documented at this point in Pettine’s tenure that he doesn’t have an issue burying someone on the depth chart that he either doesn’t like, doesn’t practice to his standards (which is a joke in itself), or he simply doesn’t feel like giving a shot. That list includes Manziel, Justin Gilbert, Dwayne Bowe and even, to a certain point, Terrelle Pryor.

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Now that one of those players has found his way onto the field for what looks like the rest of the season, the last thing Pettine needs is for that player to succeed. If Manziel can show continued improvement and even do the highly unlikely and win one of these final three games, questions from the front office and owner will undoubtedly begin.

Those questions will focus not only on why Manziel had been sitting during a horrible losing season, but also if Bowe and Gilbert could have been productive as well and were simply never given the chance.

If Pettine is exposed as holding grudges, or not being able to evaluate talent on his own team to the detriment of the team, he has absolutely no chance at keeping his job going into next season. The best thing that can happen for him is for Manziel to fail and the team to drop the next three games by pretty convincing margins. At least at that point, when Jimmy Haslam calls him into his office for his post-season evaluation, Pettine can at least tell the owner that general manager Ray Farmer gave him nothing to work with, shifting the blame to the general manager and off of Pettine himself.

For a brief time it looked like Haslam might clean house all together and rid himself of his head coach and general manager, but as reports continue to flow out of Cleveland it is increasingly looking like either Pettine or Farmer may make it through this off-season and have another shot in 2016. The question is becoming who will survive?

If Manziel continues to improve and can lead this team to another victory or two, Farmer definitely has a case to remain general manager after finally bringing a quarterback to Cleveland. On the other side, if the Browns drop the next three and Manziel looks lost, that could be curtains for both Manziel and the entire front office, giving Pettine a new quarterback and maybe, more importantly, another chance in 2016.