If nothing else, you have to give the Cleveland Browns credit—they’re not repeating themselves. After watching Browns head coach Mike Pettine introduce his coordinators, you couldn’t imagine a more polar opposite scene from Rob Chudzinski’s staff. Mike Pettine, a defensive guy, replaces the former offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski. Jim O’Neil, a young guy with five years of NFL experience, replaces Ray Horton, who took the Browns coordinator job after being considered a head coaching candidate. A 34-year-old Kyle Shanahan replaces a 61-year-old Norv Turner. Well, I guess there’s Chris Tabor, who remains Teflon greased in olive oil after surviving firings of Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski, who will handle special teams under Mike Pettine.
I can’t find anywhere online how old Tabor is1, and I don’t think I’m insulting him when I say that he looked kind of old sitting next to Shanahan and the baby-faced O’Neil. That’s saying something considering that I believe Tabor is only in his early to mid-40’s2. Regardless, the leader of this crew is 47-year-old Mike Pettine, and the Browns have pulled a bit of a 180 in the profile of this coaching staff.
Make no mistake: Simply hiring young, hungry guys isn’t a strategy. The guys have to be creative, capable, and willing to work together toward a common mission. Press conferences in the early part of February are hardly an indication of much of anything, but I can get on board with giving these guys their fair shake to finally turn this team around.
That’s all any of them can really expect at this point. I can make the case for Pettine, Shanahan, O’Neil and Tabor all day and night if I want, but they’re going to have to put it all together. They’re going to have to put in the time, get through to the players, make the most of what they have, and find a way to do it with enough chemistry that a weekly gameplan starts to achieve wins.
Mike Pettine spoke about the work ethic, smarts and creativity of his new coordinators; that’s great to hear. I’ll be watching closely to see if these guys can finally do what has been lacking, namely, exploiting other teams. When you think about taking an advantage and exploiting it, it’s hard to think of a time when the Browns have done that. More often than not, when the Browns have won over the past few years, it’s been related to a spectacular special teams day like Travis Benjamin had against the Bills in 2013. Even with the massive experience that the Browns staff had this year, it never felt like they were winning the chess match.
When Josh Gordon was putting up crazy receiving numbers, there were a lot of garbage-time yards that were piled up in the second halves of losses. That’s not to take anything away from Gordon’s stats; it’s to point out that it felt more like his talent shining through and less like the coaches were finding ways to put him in a position to be a dominant player. Compare Gordon’s breakout year to that of Peyton Hillis when Eric Mangini was scheming like crazy and that’s the big difference to me. Mangini had other flaws, but there’s little doubt he was a guy who could compete as a coach in terms of gameplanning from week-to-week. Just ask the Saints or Patriots.
So I look forward to seeing what the youth movement can produce here in Cleveland. I want them to make the most of the talent that’s here. I want to feel like the coaching is giving the team – whatever the situation with talent or injuries – something of an advantage week-in and week-out. If Pettine’s right about these guys, the effort will be there. I hope he’s also correct about the smarts and getting that to translate on the field and in the locker room. If he is, it’ll be a change and a welcomed one at that.