With the frustration of the fans growing, the perception of the organization turning even uglier and the criticism of his coaching search rising in volume, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam felt the need to address the fans.
He tried to ease their concerns in a letter posted on the team’s website Wednesday describing and defending the team’s “methodical” approach to the process. He reasserted the job’s attractiveness to candidates and the franchise’s commitment to hiring the right person and thanked the fans for “phenomenal support and loyalty.”
The Browns were the first team to fire their coach following the season, yet are the only team without one after the Vikings hired Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer on Wednesday. As the search to replace Rob Chudzinski continues in its third week, the focus on Cleveland has intensified. Nearly all of it’s been negative.
Haslam broke the team’s policy of silence regarding the search in an attempt to refute the criticism.
“We have had the opportunity to speak to a number of outstanding candidates,” he wrote. “We have purposefully been very methodical in our approach. We believe it is very important to stay disciplined to this process and to interview all of the candidates on our list. We are strongly committed to finding the right person to coach the Cleveland Browns.”
The search will continue today with an interview of Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, according to multiple reports. In his first season with the Bills this year, they set a franchise record and ranked second in the league with 57 sacks. They ranked 10th in overall defense.
Pettine, 47, is a disciple of Rex Ryan, has a history with the 3-4 scheme and spent the previous four years as Jets coordinator for a defense that finished in the top 10 each year. The Jets led the league in scoring (14.8 points per game), total defense (252.3 yards) and pass defense (153.7) in his first year as a coordinator in 2009.
The deliberate process may have cost the Browns the chance to hire many of the candidates they interviewed. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles withdrew from consideration, Ken Whisenhunt was hired as coach of the Titans and former Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo took the offensive coordinator job with the Giants.
The upside of the length of the search is that the Browns are the only team in play for any of the coaches left in the playoffs.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, 35, is at the top of that list. He was the first interview requested by the Browns after they fired Chudzinski but postponed until Denver was done in the postseason.
The Broncos host the Patriots on Sunday in the AFC championship. If the Broncos lose, Gase will be free to interview. If they win, the Browns must wait until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
Gase is in his first season as a coordinator and had unprecedented success working with quarterback Peyton Manning. The Broncos scored an NFL-record 606 points and led the league with 457.3 yards and 340.3 yards passing per game. Manning set NFL records with 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards, had a 115.1 rating and is expected to be named MVP for the fifth time.
But Gase to the Browns isn’t a done deal. The Browns haven’t interviewed him, and he may not be ready to make the jump to head coach. His agent, Bob LaMonte, may also influence the decision.
General manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur, LaMonte clients, were fired by the Browns following the 2012 season.
The Browns interviewed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Jan. 1 and can request permission from Seattle for a second interview during the bye week before the Super Bowl — if Seattle beats San Francisco.
The NFC championship game is filled with potential candidates, including Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and 49ers coordinators Greg Roman (offense) and Vic Fangio (defense).
If the Browns haven’t already interviewed a coach still in the playoffs, they can’t until after the team is out.
Besides Quinn, recently fired Titans coach Mike Munchak is the only other known candidate interviewed by Cleveland still available.
“We understood from the beginning that if we wanted to speak to all of the coaches on our list that we may need to wait until they have completed their participation in the playoffs,” Haslam wrote. “We are prepared to wait as long as necessary because this is a very important decision. Everyone in our organization is committed to finding the right leader for our team.”
Some fans are concerned the delay in hiring a coach will hurt the quality of his staff. The Browns believe the wait is worth it, and can point to certain statistics to justify their claim.
Of the 16 coaches hired from teams that played in the conference championship since 1993, 14 were given their first NFL head coaching position. Fourteen led their team to the playoffs — one that didn’t, Romeo Crennel, had a 10-6 season — and 11 went to the playoffs within their first two seasons. Six made the conference championship within three years, and three advanced to the Super Bowl.
National reports have called the Browns job “toxic” and “radioactive” and questioned its appeal.
“We believe the head coach of the Cleveland Browns to be a very attractive position,” Haslam wrote. “We have one of the youngest teams in the League, a roster that includes five Pro Bowlers. In addition, we have more salary-cap room than all but one NFL team. We also have three of the top 35 picks in the upcoming draft and five of the top 83 selections.”
The firing of Chudzinski after one season raised questions about the security the next coach can expect. Haslam, who’s on his second coaching search in less than two years in control of the team, remains positive about the outcome.
“We are very much looking forward to adding a strong coach to our football team,” he wrote. “On behalf of the Cleveland Browns, I cannot thank you enough for your valuable support and passion that you show for our team.
“We look forward to communicating with you again after the search process is complete. Thank you again for your phenomenal support and loyalty.”
Minnesota was granted permission to interview offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and Tennessee was granted permission to interview defensive coordinator Ray Horton, a league source confirmed.
Turner would work for Zimmer in his first head coaching job. Horton would be reunited with Whisenhunt. They spent 2011-12 together in Arizona.
Horton and Turner recently completed their first seasons with the Browns. Their hiring was trumpeted as a success by the organization, but they aren’t expected to return after the firing of Chudzinski.
• Outside linebackers coach Brian Baker was hired by the Washington Redskins for the same position after one year in Cleveland.
• Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was named to USA Football’s All-Fundamentals Team, which recognizes players who use proper technique, particularly when blocking and tackling.
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