Why Mike Pettine is an Underrated Hire for Cleveland

Mike Pettine has a great defensive background.

After letting the Browns know that I’d rather continue to be Editor-In-Chief at numberFire than be the head coach of their franchise, the team announced today that they would be hiring Mike Pettine as Rob Chudzinski’s replacement.

So first Cleveland loses LeBron, and now they don’t even know how to pronounce the last name of their head football coach (it’s pett-in)? Does it get any worse?

I made it clear that I wasn’t a fan of the Chudzinski firing on Black Monday – he really wasn’t given a fair chance, especially given the fact that he made the team better in nearly every facet of the game. But after this hiring, I'm not as against what the Browns ended up doing on the coaching front. While some may still be wishing for Chudzinski, I think they'll be pleasantly surprised when they see how Mike Pettine can impact this team.

Mike Pettine, Defensive Guru?

Pettine was actually a graduate assistant at my alma mater back in 1993 (Go Pitt), and slowly moved up the coaching ranks from there. He coached at the high school level, and made the jump to the pros in 2002 when he became the coaching assistant for the Ravens.

After doing work with the Ravens defensive line and outside linebackers, Pettine became the New York Jets defensive coordinator in 2009, the same year Rex Ryan became the Jets head coach. He coordinated the unit for four years, moving to the Bills to be their defensive coordinator when his contract expired a year ago. He was in Buffalo for just a year.

So clearly he’s defensive oriented. Was he successful? Let’s take a look at the Jets defensive units from 2009 to 2012, while Pettine was coaching there. I’ve included the 2008 and 2013 numbers as well to see the impact he made.

Pass DefenseRush DefenseTotal

The numbers above reflect numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points, Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points and Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (read more about Net Expected Points). While I only posted where the team ranked in each category, the metrics show us how far above or below expectation a particular unit played.

In the case of Pettine’s Jets, they played well above expectation for the majority of his tenure.

It’s always difficult to separate head coach from coordinator when there’s success, and that’s not different with Pettine and Rex Ryan. However, he’s been said to have been Rex Ryan's right hand man in New York, a relationship that he even brought up to reporters today.

That being said, you may be under the impression that it was Ryan – not Pettine – who made the Jets a defense to be reckoned with for three straight seasons. But when you look at what Pettine did to Buffalo's defense this year, perhaps your mind will change.

Pass DefenseRush DefenseTotal

Though the Bills have talented pieces on defense, Mike Pettine’s presence was clearly felt when he moved to Buffalo. The team went from being the 31st-ranked squad to the 8th-ranked one in just one season according to our metrics that are adjusted for strength of opponent, despite battling significant injuries early in the season in the secondary. Moreover, he helped Kiko Alonso, Buffalo’s first-year linebacker, post a Defensive Rookie of the Year-type season.

While a lot of folks have never heard of Pettine, it would be ridiculous to say that his defensive resume isn’t impressive. Considering the Browns were a bottom-half defensive team with a 16th-ranked pass defense and 24th-ranked rush one, Pettine could really turn this unit around.

The Right Hire?

The problem most will have with the hire is that the Browns woes were offensive, not defensive, ones. While I do agree the Browns have a lot to work on offensively, much of that can be fixed with the right quarterback situation. The offensive line is average with a couple of solid pieces (as long as they can be retained), and the team has one of the most dynamic young receivers this league has ever seen. A number two wideout and a quarterback – though a tough, tough task to simply go out and get – are two needed pieces that were missing in 2013.

Defensive pieces are there for the team, too. An aggressive style will fit perfectly with the other three AFC North teams, which is something the Browns front office is more than likely trying to mimic. The team has a lot to potentially look forward to on that side of the ball.

Like I concluded with Ken Whisenhunt, the hire will look good or bad depending on who is brought on to help with the hire’s weakness. There’s no doubt that the Browns have a solid defensive mind now, but the offensive coordinator, now that Norv Turner is gone, will need to be filled with an experienced coach who can mold a quarterback into a serviceable one. Pettine doesn’t have the experiece to do that.

In the end, though it was painful to watch coaches take their names out of the hiring process, the Browns got a man who can really change the franchise. His success will heavily depend on who he brings on to help him out.