Mike Pettine: Hard to justify keeping staff completely together


Oct 4, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine (center) looks on during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine admitted that it may be hard to make a case to keep the entire coaching staff together after another lost season.

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine met with the media on Thursday and gave the first indication that there may be changes coming to the coaching staff in the offseason.

When asked if he would consider sacrificing a member of the coaching staff as a condition of keeping his job past Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pettine admitted that it may come to that.

“Will there likely be some changes? If I was to stay here, it would be hard to justify keeping the staff completely together and there likely would have to be some changes made, but I won’t get into specifics,” Pettine said.

The most likely candidate to be jettisoned from the staff would be defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, who has struggled in his first year of being the main man running the defense.

“I don’t think anybody thought it was going to be a quick turnaround based on where we are.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

In 2014, when Pettine took an active role in the defensive game planning, the run defense was bad (ranking No. 32 in the NFL), but the Browns did finish ranked No. 8 against the pass and gave up an average of 21.1 points per game.

This year under O’Neil, the run defense has still been at the bottom of the league, and things got worse as the pass defense slipped to No. 19 and the Browns are giving up almost six more points per game.

The defense has also routinely given up 30 or more points a game, which is just too much to overcome for an offense that continually struggles to find the end zone.

“It’s been a disappointment,” Pettine admitted. “It’s been a source of frustration. It’s tough for me, too, when that’s my area of expertise and it’s an area where we’ve fallen short, especially this year where I felt like we’ve overachieved offensively. If you look at exactly what you’re saying, the roster, the investment, we’ve underachieved [on defense].

“We’re not going to make excuses. It is a source of frustration, disappointment and something that myself and the defensive staff show up here every day to work and get corrected. Some areas we’ve gotten better and others we haven’t.”

In addition to possibly making a chance from a coaching standpoint, Pettine also said it may be time to revisit the defensive system the team runs, one that has been called overly complicated on more than one occasion this season.

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“From a system standpoint, I don’t know if a complete overhaul is what’s necessary. I think some tweaks to it, some studies because I think the league is evolving, especially in the run game,” Pettine explained. “Most teams now have gotten to the spread, which pretty much puts defenses – there’s much less variety on early downs. It has made defenses on early downs vanilla because of having to account for all the threats across the field.

“That’s something I think defenses are a little bit behind in right now that have to study over the offseason. Defensively, it’s always about math. The issue here is now teams are getting that ball in space at the point of attack and that (defensive) guy, even though he’s there, he still needs to be able to make the play. It puts a premium on guys who can tackle well, but from a schematic standpoint as we do every year, we’ll break it down and study it.”

As for the possibility that Sunday could be his final game on the sidelines for the Browns, Pettine said he is not focusing on that right now.

“I constantly preach to the players: worry about things you have control over, and what’s going to happen and what that decision ends up being is, how I control it is how I prepare the team each week,” he said. “I throw everything I have into that. Do you think about it? Of course, you do, but it’s not how I’m wired to be stressed about it.

I love it here. I know it’s easy to get wrapped up and let the negativity pull you down, but I’m the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and I will be the head coach until I’m told not to. That’s how it is. It’s the advice I give to players –you can’t get wrapped up in it, and it’s something I have to follow myself.”