September 2, 2014

Medina
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Browns coaching: Pettine labeled favorite

Twenty-four days and still no coach.

That could change today.

According to multiple reports, Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will fly into town for his third interview within a week. That should make him the favorite to become the team’s seventh coach since returning in 1999.

But nothing’s guaranteed in this twisting and turning search.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday night that the Browns were down to two finalists who would meet with the Browns’ brass today, citing league sources. He labeled Pettine a favorite.

The second finalist hasn’t been identified.

It could be Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He was the first to interview with the Browns on Jan. 1, was expected to get a second interview and CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported he’s still in the mix.

Quinn’s preparing for the Super Bowl, so an interview in Cleveland seems unlikely. NFL rules mandate a second interview take place by Sunday and prohibit an agreement being reached until after the game Feb. 2.

The second finalist could’ve been fired Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, but a league source told The Gazette he won’t be hired. Schiano, a polarizing figure who went 11-21 in two years with Tampa Bay, unexpectedly interviewed Wednesday.

Within minutes of reports of Schiano’s interview, his candidacy was dismissed by the source. The Browns aren’t commenting publicly on the search.

Pettine has been available since the end of the regular season Dec. 29, because Buffalo went 6-10 and missed the playoffs. He wasn’t linked to any of the other six vacancies across the league — all have been filled — yet the Browns interviewed him last Thursday for the first time. He had a second interview Tuesday night at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and continued to impress.

Pettine, 47, just concluded his first year with the Bills. He was coordinator for the Jets under Rex Ryan the previous four years. His Buffalo defense ranked 10th, and New York’s finished no lower than eighth in his tenure.

The Browns have taken a beating locally and nationally, starting with the surprise firing of coach Rob Chudzinski after one season. The Browns went 4-12, losing the last seven games and 10 of 11.

Pettine’s daughter Megan even piled on after her dad’s first interview.

“It’s the browns,” she posted on a Twitter account since deleted. “But hey, still pretty cool!”

The meandering search has received the most criticism. Perceived favorites Josh McDaniels and Adam Gase, offensive coordinators for New England and Denver, withdrew from consideration, along with Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

The Browns have interviewed 10 known candidates, sticking with the methodical approach preached by owner Jimmy Haslam. They weren’t even done adding to the list after talking to Pettine again Tuesday night.

They met with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Schiano on Wednesday. ESPN’s Vaughn McClure first reported the interview and characterized Koetter as a “long shot.”

Former Titans head coach Mike Munchak received one of the interviews. He was hired Wednesday by the Steelers to coach the offensive line.

The Browns have an extra two weeks before the NFL Draft, which has been pushed back to May 8-10, but are falling behind the rest of the league in the business of the offseason. The new coach will have to put together a staff from a limited pool of coaches and get up to speed on Cleveland’s roster and the philosophy of the personnel department in advance of the scouting combine in mid-February and the start of free agency in March. The new coach would be expected to provide an opinion on retaining the team’s free agents, most notably center Alex Mack and strong safety T.J. Ward.

Hiring Schiano would’ve brought even more derision the Browns’ way. He alienated players, including Elyria High graduate Danny Noble, with his style and ruffled feathers throughout the league when he told his players to attack the opponent on end-of-game kneeldowns. Tampa Bay went 7-9 in 2012, but fell to 4-12 this season.

NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported the Browns had no plans to interview Schiano as of last week. They changed their minds, and Schiano called people around the league about CEO Joe Banner. Patriots coach Bill Belichick reportedly recommended him to Haslam.

With Schiano out of the hunt, the decision may come down to Pettine or Quinn. If it’s Pettine, he can be hired at any time. If it’s Quinn, he can’t be hired until after the Super Bowl.

Seattle had the league’s best defense in Quinn’s first season as coordinator.

WKYC’s Jim Donovan, the radio voice of the Browns, reported the Bills were urging the Browns to make a decision regarding Pettine. They don’t want to lose him, but would like to start the search for a replacement at defensive coordinator if necessary.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.