Dismissal of coach Pettine, GM Farmer begins more upheaval for Browns
CLEVELAND — It was a scene that has played out far too often for the Browns in recent years.
Their coach took the podium following a season-ending loss to the rival Steelers and fielded questions from media about his job status amid rumors swirling that his fate already had been sealed.
It's the fifth time in the past eight years that scenario has played out. But as uncomfortable as the dead-man-walking remarks of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski were in recent years, Mike Pettine's turn featured a next-level circus of the bizarre:
More questions about another alleged display of debauchery from Johnny Manziel.
So while Pettine's tired face showed the requisite signs of exasperation and despondency, even he couldn't help but crack a joke during a few moments of his final public remarks as Browns coach.
Asked if Manziel was in Las Vegas on Saturday night, as a USA Today report stated, Pettine said, “I don't know. I know I wasn't.”
Pettine laughed, as did the media. But less than three hours later, the Browns announced Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer were fired after a 3-13 season and 18 losses in the team's previous 21 games.
“I'm the first one to tell you — you've heard me say it a million times — this is a pass/fail league,” Pettine said. “And the results aren't there. Nobody wants to hear it takes time. Nobody wants to hear it's a process, but that's the situation that we're in.”
Pettine denied a litany of reports from national outlets:
• He had approached owner Jimmy Haslam about his status earlier this week.
• He guaranteed Browns players a victory over Kansas City last week.
• He told players he was going to get fired because of the players' lack of effort.
• Manziel was sent home from a quarterbacks meeting this week because he was inebriated.
Through it all, Pettine maintained he was proud of his players and assistants and that his players tried hard.
“A week with just so much going on, just all of the negativity swirling around it, just all of the stuff that was out there — for our guys to stay focused, it was a great test of their mental toughness,” Pettine said.
The Browns' 28-12 loss featured thousands of Steelers fans gradually taking over First Energy Field, their Terrible Towels twirling as brown-and-orange clad home fans filed out.
“Well,” Browns tackle Joe Thomas said, “that's expected when you're 3-12 going on 3-13.”
It was the fifth time in his nine seasons Thomas watched his coaching staff get dismissed.
“It's tough, and it becomes harder every time it happens because you realize you're closer to your (career's) end,” Thomas said.
Thomas was joined by multiple teammates expressing respect for Pettine. But it wasn't enough to save his job.
“Any time you have a tough year like we've had, there's going to be changes,” said Austin Davis, the Browns' third-string quarterback.
“Everyone is well aware of that.”
Haslam addressed his latest rebuilding effort during an evening news conference.
“The fact (the franchise) is not performing in a manner these great fans deserve is my fault,” said Haslam, a former minority owner of the Steelers who purchased the Browns in 2012 and will have his fourth general manager and fourth coach by spring.
“To take it from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the best teams won't be easy.”
One of the biggest questions for the new regime is quarterback. The team has gone through 24 starters since 1999.
Manziel was taken in the first round 20 months ago but has had a stint in rehab along with several off-field incidents. His play in 14 games showed some promise, but he also has been erratic.
“His issues have been well documented,” Pettine said. “You say, ‘mess.' Can I say, ‘work in progress?' … But I am not going to sit here and use an excuse that just because we drafted a quarterback high and he is maybe not where he ideally should be that it was the downfall of what happened here or that was the reason.”