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Browns get their guy at Bills’ expense

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Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2014 12:06 am

Somebody actually DID want the Browns’ head coaching job.

Oh, it took at least seven misfires — three of whom took their names from consideration — but, unfortunately for the Bills, Mike Pettine was not one of them.

Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, one of the NFL’s most coveted assistant coaches, was introduced as the Browns’ boss Thursday afternoon.

His hiring ended Cleveland’s comedic search after firing hamstrung first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski immediately after the regular season ended.

Yeah, that guy, the lifelong Browns’ fan who called it his dream job, then had his best running back — Trent Richardson — traded two games into the season and basically was charged with winning by using a quarterback triumvirate of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer.

Small wonder the Browns went 4-12.

Still, Chudzinski’s inability to turn chicken droppings into chicken salad terminated his tenure after 11 months.

But what infuriated Cleveland fans was the fact the Browns’ coach was the second of seven such terminations in the NFL — following only Gary Kubiak’s in-season axing at Houston — but the last job to be filled.

Clearly, the Browns’ management had no plan beyond dumping Chudzinski.

And that’s when the comedy show really started.

Three candidates — Denver’s Adam Gase and New England’s Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinators for their respective teams, and Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles — removed themselves from the search.

Fired Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano didn’t pass muster, nor did Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter . Green Bay quarterback coach Ben McAdoo opted instead to take the offensive coordinator job with the Giants, inferring it was a better option than being the Browns head man.

Finally, with the whole league laughing at Cleveland’s management team, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wasn’t even interviewed — and couldn’t be until after the Super Bowl — hence, the hiring of Pettine, who clearly wasn’t among the top three original choices.

AND WHILE some Bills’ fans might be miffed at his exit after only one season, he undeniably did his job. Pettine took over a dull, read-and-react defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in takeaways and yards surrendered and turned it into an attacking unit that was second in both sacks (57) and interceptions (23).

Buffalo ranked 10th in overall defense, fourth against the pass. The main flaw  in his crew was struggling against the run where the Bills were 28th with a league-worst 19 rushes against them of over 20- yards, including TD rushes of 35 and 36 yards by the Pats’ LaGarrette Blount in the finale.

Still, as Pettine pointed out in his introductory press conference with the Browns, “There are only 32 of these jobs in the world ... these opportunities don’t come along often...”

Why, at age 47,  shouldn’t he jump at that offer  ... Browns recent history notwithstanding?

HOWEVER, his exit does leave a gaping hole on the Bills’ staff.

There are all manner of candidates out there for Buffalo’s defensive coordinator job, but one name popped into my head the minute Pettine became a candidate in Cleveland.

Wade Phillips.

Don’t laugh.

At age 66, having been swept out with Kubiak’s staff, his resume is particularly strong.

As an NFL head coach — excluding interim stints when he went 3-7 for the Saints, Falcons and Texans — Phillips’ regular-season record  in nine years with Denver, Buffalo and Dallas is 79-54. That includes 29-19 in three seasons with the Bills, two of them ending in playoff appearances.

His .594 winning percentage is better than Chuck Noll, Dan Reeves, Chuck Knox, Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher, Hank Stream, Mike Ditka, Dick Vermeil, Jim Mora ... and the list goes on.

Still, record aside, Phillips has always been a victim of the perception that he’s too soft as a head coach. That’s why he was axed midway through his last season in Dallas with the Cowboys mired in a 1-7 start.

HOWEVER, no such criticism has ever surfaced about his work as defensive coordinator, which has long been hailed as top-flight.

Incredibly, Wade has served in that position for seven NFL teams — Atlanta, Buffalo, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Diego — and he never left any of those jobs on bad terms, nor after his three head coaching stints, five of those nine seasons ending with playoff berths.

It would be interesting to know the approach of current Bills boss Doug Marrone, starting his second year, in filling Pettine’s job.

But, obviously, there are a lot worse choices than Wade Phillips.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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