How does Mike Pettine’s performance hold up under review?


Oct 18, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine during the first half against the Denver Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

How would Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine fair under a human resources performance review for the 2015 season?

I used to love mid-December when I served as president of the Regional Airline Association.

Next year’s budget was put to bed and work emails slowed to a trickle. Ricardo, our mail guy, would BS longer about his beloved Dallas Cowboys as he unloaded a cart full of cookies, fruit baskets and neat swag from appreciative members for us to share in the office. There were also plenty of holiday parties and catch-up lunches with old pals.

It was a perfect time except for one thing: those dreaded annual employee performance evaluations.

Filling out those mind-of-their-own online personnel forms was the easier part – a good exercise to reflect upon how your colleagues contributed to the team’s success and how you could be a better coach. The hard part? Those face-to-face meetings.

Awkward at best, always stressful, and it matters not whether you’re on the delivering or receiving end, you dread looking across that desk. Even if the person being evaluated has earned top grades, a generous bonus and hefty raise, you spend hours wrangling the existential qualitative rating difference between “outstanding” and “excellent.”

Regardless of profession, position or performance – annual evaluations suck. I’ll bet Winston Churchill’s 1939 to 1945 Employee Reviews read “generally exceeds expectations.”

But since it’s that Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and before team owner Jimmy Haslam and BrownsNation “go in a different direction,” (the five words you never want to hear your boss utter), here’s our detailed 2015 performance review for head coach Mike Pettine (based on an honest-to-goodness legitimate HR template for senior management):

Rating scale: 4.25 and above: Great. 4: Good. 3.75: So-So. 3.5: Cautious. Below 3.5: Concerning.

Managing Operations 3.4

While the Browns have been prepared at opening kick-off, the several penalty-marred games and questionable clock management (see San Diego, Denver, Baltimore on Monday night) had fans rightfully screaming for Pettine’s head on the spot. Inability to adjust during the games is unacceptable. Play calling and referee challenges have generally met expectations and daily routines appear to operate smoothly.

Solving Problems 3.4

The Manziel Melodrama had the potential to reach nuclear levels, but Pettine has handled this impossible personnel dilemma as well as could be expected. Pettine didn’t cause Joe Haden‘s injury, or the poor production of his replacements and that of Paul Krueger, Barkevious Mingo, Tashaun Gibson, et. al., but his reluctance to play others (Ibraheim Campbell, Justin Gilbert) demonstrated stubbornness and reluctance to seek potential solutions.

Building Team Effectiveness 4.3

With multiple players publicly expressing support, and no locker room clamor for change, Pettine has maintained the team’s trust in spite of their and his sub-par performance.

Surfacing, Confronting and Resolving Conflict 3.8

Keeping the team’s support could also mean that Pettine has mastered conflict avoidance by coddling poor performers. This could come unglued over the next three games or at season’s end, but given the miserable season, Pettine’s kept the lid on.

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Managing People 3.6

Pettine’s consistency and his “managing up” of meddlesome general manager Ray Farmer, team president Alec Scheiner, and Haslam is noteworthy. This rating would be higher if he had “managed down” more effectively, stepped in and held assistants Jim O’Neil, Chris Tabor and Andy Moeller more accountable.

Communicating 3.5 3.2

A positive competency in Year One, a measurable decline in Year Two as Pettine’s straightforward, often insightful speech has degenerated into canned, increasingly snarky, coach-speak. This week’s bulletin board slap at Russell Wilson hurt Pettine’s rating here – and if the Seahawks light up the Browns on Sunday, it may be the tipping point justification for his firing.

Personal Attributes 4.3

I’ve never met the man, but his consistency and steadfastness are almost Marty Schottenheimer-like. Many fans would prefer sideline scowlers (Bill Cowher, Tom Coughlin, Jon Gruden) or rant-and-ravers (Rex Ryan, Mike Ditka, John Madden), but an earnest Mike Pettine beats a somnolent Chris Palmer, a clueless Romeo Crennel, a troubled Butch Davis, a petty Eric Mangini, an overmatched Rob Chudzinski – or the worst combination of all, Pat Shurmur.

Summary Evaluation 3.72  Not quite “So So”, better than “Cautious”

If Pettine were working for you, he’d be put on an Improvement Program with an interim evaluation after 90 days. Yet, like the salesman who closes that big deal at year-end, Pettine could save his job by the Browns playing strong these last three games. Or he might suffer a Chud-like leaked firing the morning of the Pittsburgh Steelers game if the Browns tank in Seattle and/or Kansas City.

Goals for 2016

  • Game management – Reduce penalties by 50 percent while improving rush defense and red-zone offense by 20 percent. Improve clock management. Demonstrate in-game and half-time adjustments, including personnel.
  • Personnel management – Hold position coaches more accountable for improved fundamentals; push veterans more and take risks with new approaches.
  • Communication & Interpersonal – Improve transparency to players and fans about personnel decisions, don’t hold back on “calling out” individuals (on your team, not someone else’s). More candor, less defensive – and stay in your lane.

HR Recommendation to Browns Management

Sadly, there’s only about a week’s window left in the NFL calendar to decide whether to keep Pettine for another year. At season’s end the Browns should weigh the advantages of removing Pettine (new voice, fan excitement) with the assumed risks (team disunity, national reputation, lack of stability, wins over replacement value) of another new head coach. Also, there must be a transition plan if a change needs be made mid-2016, as the Miami Dolphins did this season.

But first, we strongly urge a full “360 Review” of the entire organization, starting with the owner, president and general manager – but that’s not an HR job, more for a Harvard-trained shrink.