Follow on Twitter on January 02, 2016
Follow on Twitter on January 02, 2016
Browns GM Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine will both probably be gone by Sunday night or Monday morning.(John Kuntz / Cleveland.com)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Browns coach Mike Pettine should've known he was in trouble when the schedule came out in April.
Season finales against the Steelers are never a good thing for a struggling Browns coach. The last four were fired after season-ending losses to the Steelers, and Pettine is likely to become the fifth.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam seems inclined to "blow things up'' and fire Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer as early as Sunday night -- despite the fact he said in August that he wouldn't.
League sources said Haslam has already been laying the groundwork for their replacements. The competition will be fierce and he has to act fast. Interviews could be scheduled as quickly as Sunday night.
Sources told cleveland.com on Friday that Pettine met with Haslam on Friday and asked him about his future and that of the coaching staff. He was told that a decision would be made either after the game or on Monday.
Pettine then met with his coaching staff on Friday and shared the news.
When the coaches walked out of the meeting, they felt Pettine would be fired, the sources said.
Similarly, Haslam has not given general manager Ray Farmer a vote of confidence, meaning he's most likley gone too.
Under their guidance, the Browns have gone 10-21, including 3-12 this season. They've lost 17 of their last 20 games dating back to their 7-4 record last season, and nine of their last 10 this season. They'll finish 1-5 in the division if they lose to the Steelers today.
When Haslam said he wouldn't blow things up, he felt the Browns were "directionally correct'' at the time. They were coming off a 7-9 season and had victories over the Bengals and Steelers.
Despite the fact Farmer was about to embark on his four-game suspension for impermissible texting during games, Haslam said he was confident that Pettine and Farmer were the right men to lead the team.
"They're quality people, they're smart, they work hard and they have been around football all of their lives,'' Haslam said in August. "I feel good that we have the right people in the building now.''
Haslam also said at the time that he felt the Browns were "going to be very competitive this year.''
Instead, they finished with one of the worst defenses in the NFL -- despite investing heavily on that side of the ball, and limped to the finish line with no obvious quarterback of the future.
Pettine made it clear on Thursday that while Johnny Manziel has made strides on the field this season, he's reverted back to his old behaviors off it and will need to address his demons again in the offseason. Sources told cleveland.com that the organization has become increasingly concerned about Manziel's well-documented drinking over the past few months. At first, he was doing the right things inside the building, and the club thought he was living right.
But recently -- particularly over the past few weeks -- his demeanor even inside the walls of Berea has raised plenty of red flags.
"Here is a guy that has an NFL skill set, he's very talented, if you spend some time with him, he's a likable guy, you root for him,'' said Pettine. "But there are problems there that we'll talk as we're headed to the offseason about getting addressed. And I've said this before, we want to make sure that all of our players are in good shape as people first, players second. Because I don't think you can be as effective as you can be as a player if things aren't right off the field. And he's a good example of that.''
Pettine, who admitted in November that Manziel's issues are "more deeply rooted'' than the club thought when they drafted him, said the Brown can't force Manziel to get help.
"I don't think we can really mandate it, but there can be strong suggestions as far as how he handles it,'' he said. "You've got to be able to send him off with a plan and check in every so often, and when the desire is there to want to get it changed and want to be better, hopefully you'll have a good result."
The Browns will likely end up with the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the draft, and Haslam probably doesn't want to head into another selection meeting with this current regime in place. The 2014 draft that netted Justin Gilbert and Manziel has been mostly a disaster. The coaching staff has made it clear that Gilbert hasn't shown he actually wants to excel in the NFL, and he's already in bust territory.
If Manziel doesn't get it together soon, the Browns will be hard-pressed to even get a middle-round pick for him. Dallas' Jerry Jones might still want him, but it's evident to him and everyone else by now that Manziel is currently damaged goods.
Pettine admitted publicly this week that he'd be willing to make changes to his coaching staff -- most likely on the defense side -- to stick around, but even that probably won't be enough to save him. Top players such as Paul Kruger, who slipped from 11 sacks in 2014 to 2.5 this year, have complained about the scheme and the way they've been used.
"Those discussions will remain between Jimmy (Haslam) and I,'' Pettine said. "Will there likely be some changes? If I were to stay here, it would be hard to justify keeping the staff completely together, and there likely would have to be some changes made, but I won't get into specifics."
Pettine acknowledged that the defensive woes have been one of his biggest disappointments of the season. He left the defense in Jim O'Neil's hands and focused on helping first-year coordinator John DeFilippo with the offense.
It was a colossal mistake, one that a smart football boss would've seen coming a mile away. The defense tumbled to 26th overall, 32nd against the run and 29th with 26.9 points allowed per game. But he never stepped in to rescue it when it was floundering.
"It's been a source of frustration,'' Pettine said. "It's tough for me, too, when that's my area of expertise and it's an area where we've fallen short, especially this year where I felt like we've overachieved offensively. If you look at the roster, the investment, we've underachieved [on defense].
"We're not going to make excuses. It is a source of frustration, disappointment and something that myself and the defensive staff show up here every day to work and get corrected. Some areas we've gotten better and others we haven't."
As Pettine's seat grew warmer in early December, he took the gloves off and asked other parts of the building to share in the Browns' failure. While most people assume he was talking about Farmer, sources said he was referring more to the business side of the building, led by team president Alec Scheiner.
"We have to be brutally honest with ourselves and brutally honest not just looking in the mirror but to other parts of the building as well because if you're going to be successful, your building has to be unified,'' Pettine said during his press conference.
"That's a big part of it. That's where the plan starts, and that to me hopefully will drive what changes need to be made. Sometimes you fall into the trap of 'let's just make change.' Well, let's make damn sure the changes we're making are the right ones that are going to get this ship turned and headed in the right direction."
Asked if the building is unified, Pettine said, "It's hard to be at this point. It's human nature. When things don't go well, everybody has a tendency to kind of bunker in and get into that mode. I think we all want what's best for the Cleveland Browns. We all have ideas on how to get it done, and we need to be collaborative and we need to make sure that we're picking the best ideas and pushing those agendas moving forward.''
He admitted, "I can't sit here and say, 'Absolutely, we're all on board, 100 percent.' That's not reality because when things don't go well, everybody has their opinions and their reasons why, but it's going to come down to a brutal self-assessment and to be able to have the strength to make tough decisions and trust them and move forward.''
If Haslam decides to fire both, which appears to be the plan according to those close to the situation, he'll likely act very quickly -- as soon as right after the game.
There could be as many eight head coaching vacancies this season, and some of the teams have already begun interviewing replacements or lining up interviews. One of the candidates that Haslam liked a lot in the last search, Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, already has drawn interest from the Dolphins and is expected to get a call from the Eagles.
Gase, who coached Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl in Denver, comes highly recommended to Haslam by Manning. When Manning is done playing, Haslam would love to have him become part of the Browns organization -- although he will have plenty of opportunities.
There will be a lot of moving parts in the scramble for a new head coach, and Haslam will have to sell the candidates on job security. An offensive coach will also likely have to have some assurances that a new quarterback of the future is on the way, likely with the first or second pick in the draft.
By Sunday evening, the changes will likely be in motion.