New Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine preached accountability in his introductory press conference on Thursday, but shied away from discussing reports about the toxicity of the job. He is the first head coach with a defensive background the team has had since Romeo Crennel led the Browns to a 24-40 record in his three-year tenure from 2005-08.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam characterized his new head coach as having "a blue-collar work ethic," adding that he believes Pettine "will be a perfect fit for out team and its fans."
A quietly confident Pettine explained that he isn't comfortable with the media, despite being in the spotlight with his father as a former coach and experiencing Hard Knocks while in Baltimore. "The sooner I can get off this stage and out of this suit, working on improving this team, the better," Pettine said. He was quick to avoid comparison to Rex Ryan, ensuring the Cleveland media knew he wouldn't be one for incendiary sound bytes, "Any of you expecting me to be like Rex Ryan will be mistaken. We were the opposite, personality wise. For many ways we were the perfect complement."
Pettine showed an understanding of the division he is entering, one established on strong defense and toughness. "My vision here in Cleveland, having spent time in Baltimore, is to compete in the AFC North, you need to bloody your nose a little bit," he said. "We're going to build a team that's not just tough physically, but mentally tough."
He believes the organization has a lot of talent, but will need to reform a culture to prevent players from hanging their heads and accepting losing. One way to ensure this will be through rigorous grading, in which Pettine said, "Players will be graded on every snap in games and in practice. The standards will be very high."
Pettine did his best to avoid questions about the search for a coach prior to his arrival, and appeared more comfortable talking about football than organizational structure, shifting his weight before answering whether a string of one-year hirings made him nervous.
"It's not unnerving and I don't feel qualified to speak on that," he said. "I only know what's in front of me, a leadership team committed to winning and a young roster. I didn't want to back away from a job because a lack of perceived security."
The 15th head coach in Browns history wouldn't speak to potential coordinator and coaching hirings, giving a pregnant pause when questioned about the current staff. He finally answered saying there was a strong possibility some of the current coaches would be brought back. One area he was quick to comment on without delay was finding a quarterback, which he spoke about with the confidence of someone who already has a plan.
"Even being a defensive guy I'd be foolish to ignore that issue," Pettine said. "To win in this league you need a great quarterback and we'll put our full attention to that."
Much of the question-and-answer session centered on preconceived notions of the organization he was entering and how Pettine thinks he can succeed where so many predecessors failed.
"I have belief in the staff we're going to build belief in the players and belief in the system that we will use," he said. "Standards will be high. We're going to put a team on the field (fans) can be proud of. It's not about winning press conference, it's about winning games"
The Buffalo Bills thrived under Pettine in 2013, improving their defensive DVOA from +10.6 percent to -13.9 percent, according to Football Outsiders -- good for fourth in the NFL. He will now be charged with leading a young and talented Cleveland defense with a host of promising young players in need of guidance.