Mike Pettine finalized a contract Thursday with the Browns, who fired coach Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 following one season. (Bill Wippert / Associated Press)
Cleveland — The Browns have hired Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their coach, ending a twisting, nearly four-week search.
Pettine finalized a contract Thursday with the Browns, who fired Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 following one season. The 47-year-old Pettine, the son of a legendary Pennsylvania high school coach, spent one year with the Bills after four as Rex Ryan’s defensive coordinator with the New York Jets.
With his clean-shaven head and no-nonsense approach, Pettine is popular with players. He’ll inherit a Cleveland team that went 4-12 this season after losing its last seven games.
Pettine emerged as the favorite to become Cleveland’s seventh full-time coach since 1999 — and fourth in six years — as the Browns eliminated candidates and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, considered the front-runner when the search started, told the team to move on without him.
Pettine was scheduled to be introduced at a late afternoon news conference.
His hiring ends a 25-day odyssey for the Browns. It was a search filled with rumors, denials, withdrawals and far too much drama for a franchise seeking stability.
On Wednesday night, reports of a “mystery” candidate sent some Browns into a social-media frenzy, jamming Twitter timelines with all types of theories.
The Browns flew to Mobile, Ala., on Tuesday to interview Pettine for the second time at the Senior Bowl. The four-hour meeting came shortly after Gase, the first candidate the team contacted, called Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and withdrew from consideration.
Gase wasn’t the only coach to reportedly bow out. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — another early front-runner — also told the Browns thanks, but no thanks.
The team had been expected to give Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn a second interview, but if he was their pick, the Browns would have had to wait until after the Super Bowl to finalize a deal.
As other teams filled their head-coaching vacancies, the Browns kept looking. The lengthy delay led to a national perception the team didn’t have a clear plan. Aware of the criticism, Haslam sent a letter to Cleveland fans last week explaining why the team was being “methodical” in finding Chudzinski’s replacement.
“We are strongly committed to finding the right person to coach the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam wrote.
And, in the end, Pettine, who had his first interview on Jan. 16, was Cleveland’s choice — even though he may not have been the team’s first one.
The Bills are sorry to see Pettine leave.
In one season in Buffalo, Pettine improved the defense in every statistical category, transforming a shaky unit into one of the league’s nastiest. With an aggressive style Pettine perfected working under Ryan, he turned Buffalo’s pass rushers loose, and the club finished with a franchise-record 57 sacks.
The Bills had trouble stopping the run, but they finished 10th in the league in yards allowed, Buffalo’s highest ranking since 2004. Buffalo also had four Pro Bowl selections on defense, including former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams, who had 13 1-2 sacks.
While he was with the Jets, Pettine’s defenses finished in the top 10 four years in a row, and New York had the NFL’s top-rated defense in 2009.
Pettine has his work cut out for him in Cleveland.
The Browns have been to the playoffs (2002) just once since their franchise rebirth in 1999 and have never built any sustained success or momentum. Change has been the only constant.
Perhaps the team’s biggest issue has been an inability to find a franchise quarterback; 20 QBs have started for the club in 15 seasons. Cleveland is expected to address its quarterback quandary in May’s draft. The Browns have 10 selections, including two in the first round.
The Browns also have plenty of salary-cap space to sign free agents, and with six Pro Bowlers, the talent cupboard is far from bare.
Jets' Smith receives apology from airline
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith has received an apology from Virgin America airline following a dispute with a flight attendant last week.
In joint statements released by the Jets on Thursday, Virgin America says it reviewed what occurred last Friday at Los Angeles International Airport. The airline called it a “misunderstanding that regrettably escalated unnecessarily.” Virgin America says it apologized to Smith and welcomed him to fly with them again.
Smith says he appreciated the airline’s review and added he looks forward to using the airline.
Neither statement released details, but a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press last Friday that Smith left the plane on his own after a flight attendant asked him to remove headphones and an argument ensued.
Man gets 57 years in prison in Sean Taylor's death
The man who prosecutors say fired the shot that killed Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor during a botched 2007 burglary was sentenced Thursday to more than 57 years in state prison.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy imposed the sentence on Eric Rivera, 23, one of five Fort Myers-area men charged with Taylor’s death after they broke into his house looking to steal cash. One has pleaded guilty and three others are still awaiting trial.
Rivera confessed to police on videotape that he shot Taylor after the NFL player confronted them at his bedroom door with a machete. In the confession, Rivera also said the group didn’t realize Taylor would be home with a knee injury instead of playing a Redskins game against Tampa Bay.
“He lost his life defending and protecting his family,” said Assistant State Attorney Reid Rubin in a closing statement. “They kicked the door in and they shot him and killed him, for no good reason.”
Testifying in his own defense last fall, Rivera claimed the confession was false and improperly coerced, and that someone else in the group shot Taylor with a 9mm handgun. A jury convicted him of second-degree murder and armed burglary. He was originally charged with first-degree murder but was ineligible for the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the killing.
In a brief statement, Rivera told members of Taylor’s family he was sorry for the killing and that Taylor was “a good man.”
“I live with his death every day. I’m going to have to deal with the consequences,” he said.
Several Rivera family members pleaded for leniency, noting that Rivera was still a minor at the time and that he had never been in trouble with the law before. But Rubin said Rivera had committed perjury in his testimony and tried to influence the testimony of others in his case.
Rivera could have gotten life behind bars. His lawyers are planning to appeal his conviction.
Taylor, a first-round pick by the Redskins in the 2004 draft, was a hard-hitting Pro Bowl safety who had previously starred at the University of Miami. He was shot during the November 2007 confrontation in the upper thigh, damaging his femoral artery and leading to massive blood loss. Taylor was 24 when he died.
His girlfriend at the time, Jackie Garcia Haley, and their then-18-month old daughter were in the room with Taylor when the confrontation occurred. Garcia Haley, in a statement read by Rubin, said Taylor’s death was difficult to bear — particularly for their daughter, also named Jackie.
Vikings' Peterson has surgery on groin
For the third straight offseason, Adrian Peterson will be recovering from surgery.
The Minnesota Vikings said their star running back had an operation Thursday to repair his adductor muscle, which is part of the groin. The team said Peterson was expected to be fully recovered in about six weeks, giving him plenty of time to heal before offseason workouts get going.