CLEVELAND — Once Mike Pettine finished his media duties and posed for more photos than a groom at his wedding, he ripped off a business suit that felt like a straitjacket.
The Browns new coach then slipped into a pair of sweats, got behind his desk and grabbed a phone.
There’s work to be done. Lots.
“We are behind,” he said.
In his first hours after being announced as Cleveland’s seventh coach in 15 years, Pettine continued making connections to assemble his staff. He has some candidates in mind for his offensive and defensive coordinators, but Pettine won’t rush into hiring anyone.
Like the Browns did before finally hiring him after a 4-12 season, Pettine will take his time and bring together coaches he believes will work well together. He isn’t just going to surround himself with buddies.
“I don’t want to build, for lack of a better phrase, ‘a good old boys club,’” said Pettine, the last of seven NFL head coaches hired in the offseason. “A lot of coaches hire people that they are friends with or go way back with, and sometimes those relationships are great and for those reasons they work well together. When you put coaches in a room like that they’re going to bond.
“I’m not looking for someone to go to lunch with. It’s going to be all about winning.”
One coach he’s expected to contact as a possible defensive coordinator is Buffalo linebackers coach Jim O’Neil, who has spent the past five seasons working under Pettine. The two were together four seasons with the New York Jets and O’Neil is seen as Pettine’s right-hand man. This past season, they retooled a Buffalo defense that finished second in the league with 57 sacks and 23 interceptions.
As for his offensive coordinator, former Houston coach Gary Kubiak has emerged as a possible target.
Pettine, who expressed a desire to have a former head coach on his staff, wants to have his coordinators in place by early next week so they can help him fill out the rest of the staff. Pettine said there will likely be some holdovers from the group of coaches who worked in Cleveland under Rob Chudzinski.
Pettine’s hiring ended a circuitous search for the Browns, who interviewed 10 candidates over 25 days. The long and winding road led to the 47-year-old Pettine, who told a Buffalo radio station on Friday that he nearly pulled his name from consideration because he couldn’t get a commitment from Cleveland and felt the Bills were being dragged along.
“That was starting to wear on me the last couple days,” Pettine told WGR . “I talked to (coach) Doug (Marrone) and it was getting to the point where I’d say, ‘Hey, if this goes on much longer I need to pull out because it’s just not fair to the Bills.’”
The drawn-out search didn’t help the image of Cleveland’s front office, which has been widely criticized for first firing Chudzinski after one season and then seeming disorganized as it looked for his successor.