Mike Pettine didn't hide from the Browns' unsavory finish to 2014 -- on or off the field. Instead, the Cleveland coach tackled it head on Monday at his end-of-season press conference.
Simply put, that's the way Pettine prefers.
Before diving in to the numerous reasons why he was excited about the Browns' future, Pettine expressed his disappointment for how the team went from 7-4 to 7-9 over the season's final five weeks. His biggest "lament" was how it affected the fans who, much like the players and coaches, had playoff aspirations.
When the focus turned to the three Browns players who were disciplined before Sunday's season finale at Baltimore -- wide receiver Josh Gordon, quarterback Duke Johnson Jr. and cornerback Justin Gilbert -- Pettine detailed how he hopes "tough love" will help get "everybody on board" as the Browns set their eyes on 2015.
Asked if he was frustrated by the line of questioning, Pettine laid out his philosophy.
"It is frustrating, but we're not going to sweep our problems under the carpet," Pettine said. "If a player warrants being suspended or being disciplined, we're going to do it. When you suspend a player, it becomes public. When you deactivate a player, it's public. When a player's reps are cut, questions will be asked. It becomes public. We're not going to be that organization that sweeps stuff under the carpet just for the sake of appearing functional on the outside.
"I would rather be functional internally and appear dysfunctional on the outside because we're going to do things the right way."
When Pettine met with the 2014 Browns for the final time Monday, he delivered a simple message to a group that collected the most wins (seven) since 2007. It followed along with the stern warning owner Jimmy Haslam laid out one day earlier.
"The guys that do it the right way, we're thankful for, and the guys that aren't that, if they want to take it as a warning, we're going to encourage them and coach them hard to do it the right way," Pettine said. "If we exhaust all opportunities, all options and can't, then they won't be here.
"We had 40-plus guys out there busting their tails in a game that to a lot of people was meaningless, but it wasn't meaningless to us. The fact that we were able to have a lead with eight minutes or whatever it was left in the game and guys playing their hearts out, guys basically in tears in the locker room after the game because they had played so hard – that's what pains me because we have so many guys here that are doing it the right way. But to have two or three or four or five guys that aren't doing it that are drawing a ton of negative attention to this organization, that's what's disappointing."
Gordon was suspended early Saturday for a violation of team rules and Gilbert essentially served the same punishment, as he was listed as inactive for the season finale.
Manziel, who was late Saturday for treatment on his injured hamstring, faced the music Monday with a throng of reporters and apologized for the transgression. Pettine said he's had "great talks" with the rookie quarterback since the Browns used the 22nd pick in the 2014 Draft to nab him but conceded "he's gotten himself to the point where his actions to me are much more important than what he says."
"It's about action," Manziel said.
Pettine and his staff will take the next week off to step away from the game that's consumed most of their waking moments since training camp. The break eliminates the "emotion" from their analysis, Pettine said.
Lengthy, detail-focused meetings will follow. The roster will be evaluated from top to bottom, inside and out. With a slew of players headed to free agency and 10 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Browns have decisions to make -- a lot of them -- and they're going to use every available moment to make sure they're the right ones.
How the Browns started 2014 wasn't completely lost on Pettine. He cited a "lot of positive things" that happened throughout the season and a positive culture change inside the walls of the organization.
The stability that's been missing in recent years has been embraced. One day after Haslam said his head coach and general manager Ray Farmer would "absolutely" be back for 2015, Pettine said he expected the "vast majority" of his assistant coaches to return as well.
"We know we have to be that much better moving into next year," Pettine said. "Very encouraged by a lot of things and discouraged by some others, but at the same time, feel that we're headed in the right direction. Very excited about getting some time off. Very excited about looking back and evaluating what we've done.
"I'm very excited about moving forward, making changes and accomplishing what we want to accomplish next year."