Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine was excited to take his first NFL head-coaching opportunity, and he expressed the same level of enthusiasm when he introduced his three coordinators on Thursday.
In addition to his position coaches, Pettine hired former Houston Texans and Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the same position, brought in former Buffalo assistant Jim O’Neil to run the defense and retained Chris Tabor as the special teams coordinator.
“It’s an exciting day for us to be able to put the final touches on the staff, but the most important part for me was assembling a quality set of coordinators,” Pettine said. “We’ve absolutely accomplished that.
“The No. 1 prerequisite for all of the coaches was an outstanding work ethic, and I think we’ve been able to accomplish that. When the players get it, they’re going to see a dedicated group, great teachers that are passionate about football and they’re united with a burning desire to win.
“We’re going to hold the players accountable. It’s not going to be done with an iron fist. I don’t believe in that style of coaching. At times, we’re going to share some lighter moments, but at the same time, we’ll know when to work, but we’ll know when to play.”
In Shanahan, Pettine gets an offensive coordinator who has proven successful with all sorts of rosters, from veteran-filled teams in Houston and during his first two years with Washington, to a younger, evolving squad in the Redskins over the last two seasons.
“Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in football,” Pettine said. “When I’ve been on the defensive side and I’ve had conversations with people about how I wanted to build an offense, it’s usually when we went against Houston or Washington, it’s going to be a style similar to that. It’s aggressive, very creative, but at the same time, very fundamentally sound. It challenges a defense.”
Shanahan’s offense finished ninth in the NFL in total yards per game and fifth in rushing in 2013. He also guided an offense that featured wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who led the NFL and broke a Washington franchise record with 113 receptions. Garcon turned those 113 catches into 1,346 yards despite injuries to second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III.
When it came to running the football, Washington put its faith in little-known rookie Alfred Morris in 2012, and that proved to be beneficial. In his first two years, the former sixth-round selection in 2012 rushed for more than 1,200 yards in his first two seasons. As a rookie, Morris set a team record with 1,613 rushing yards and was the third-best total for a first-year NFL player in league history.
“Kyle’s proven in his six years that he can have one of the leading rushing attacks, he can have one of the leading passing attacks,” Pettine said. “He can have a veteran quarterback, he can have a rookie quarterback.
“He can have a marquee receiver in an Andre Johnson, or he can get it done with some other guys that are Pro Bowl types. He can have all different kinds off offensive linemen, different running backs. That was appealing to me, that his system was able to adapt and be successful.”
O’Neil came to the Browns after spending the 2013 season as the linebackers coach for the Buffalo Bills. Under his guidance, the Bills finished last year with a franchise-best 57 sacks. Buffalo finished 10th in the NFL in total defense, led the league in opponent completion percentage, second in interceptions, third in opponent quarterback rating, fourth in passing defense and sixth in yards per play.
“Jim O’Neil played for my father at Central Bucks West High School back in the ‘90s, and that gave him instant credibility with me because that meant to me that he had thick skin,” Pettine said. “If he could handle playing for him, then he could handle just about anything I could ever throw at him. Jim is a tenacious coach, smart. He’s tough. He’s creative, and he and I have done it together.
“Jim is very capable, is always looking to improve. Just like Kyle, he’s going to set high standards. He’s going to be firm. He’s going to be fair. I think the players are going to immediately respect the guys that we’ve hired. To me, it’s a staff of men of high character, vast football knowledge coupled with the ability to teach it.”
Tabor was retained and will work on his third coaching staff with the Browns after another standout season by his special teams units.
In 2013, Tabor’s kickoff return team averaged 23.3 yards per return, while the coverage team limited opponents to 22.7 yards per run back. On punts, the Browns averaged 11.0 yards per return, including a 79-yard touchdown by wide receiver
Two years ago, Tabor mentored kicker Phil Dawson and kickoff returner Joshua Cribbs to the Pro Bowl, marking the second time in team history that two Browns specialists made the annual all-star game together.
“Chris Tabor is one of the most well-respected special-teams coaches in the league,” Pettine said. “It was evidenced by the number of requests that he was not permitted to leave, and I was glad that happened. He’s a quality coach. He’s the son of a coach, which as you guys will see with the staff make-up, I have a soft spot for coaches’ kids.
“His units are well-respected throughout the league. When I talked to some guys and I was putting the staff together, a lot of them took a moment to say, ‘Hey, listen. You’ve got a real good coach in Chris.’ I’d say that’s a solid hire, and I’m very pleased to retain Chris and his assistant as well.”