Packers set to hire former Browns head coach and long time defensive assistant Mike Pettine to be their defensive coordinator Aaron Nagler/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Mike McCarthy’s search to fill his vacant defensive coordinator’s job ended suddenly after nine days when the Green Bay Packers coach chose former Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine to succeed Dom Capers.
McCarthy chose Pettine over in-house candidates Darren Perry, Joe Whitt Jr. and Winston Moss.
Members of McCarthy’s staff were informed that Pettine was going to be the next defensive coordinator. ESPN reported that Pettine was in the process of working out a deal, but a source said that it was finalized that he had accepted the position.
Pettine, 51, was out of football in 2016 after compiling a 10-22 record in two seasons as coach of the Cleveland Browns and spent this past season as a defensive consultant with the Seattle Seahawks.
McCarthy had interest in Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, but it appears Fangio is going to stick with the Bears. He also asked for permission to speak with Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, but never got to interview him. Bradley agreed to return to the Chargers Tuesday night.
Thus, McCarthy landed the one guy no one expected him to hire.
In addition to adding Pettine, McCarthy spoke with New York Giants defensive line coach Patrick Graham about an open position on the staff. Graham, who comes from the New England system and coached one year with the Giants, is a linebackers coacch by trade and may be eyeing a position there.
Pettine comes from the Rex Ryan coaching tree, having served with the Baltimore Ravens as a coaching assistant (2002-03), assistant defensive line coach (2004), outside linebackers coach (2005-08) and then defensive coordinator of the New York Jets (2009-12) and Buffalo Bills (2013).
Ryan was on the Ravens' staff from 1999-08, including as defensive coordinator his last five seasons. He brought Pettine with him when he became the New York Jets coach in 2009.
Pettine accepted the Browns job in 2014 and compiled a 10-22 record before being fired.
Along the way to his head-coaching job, Pettine was part of some of the NFL’s top defenses. From ’09-12, the Jets ranked 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th in overall defense. Ryan received most of the credit for the Jets’ great defenses, but a Cleveland.com story said that Ryan turned over much of the responsibility of the defense to Pettine after the 2009 season.
In 2013, after Pettine went to Buffalo, the Bills ranked 10th in defense.
The Ryan-Pettine system is pressure-based and they use both 3-4 and 4-3 concepts, meaning players must understand both. There is a lot of flexibility to change game plans week to week, but according to an NFL play-caller who has faced those defenses, players have to be flexible and smart.
“History tells you they like to pressure,” the play-caller said. “Interestingly, I read that he has been spending time with Pete (Carroll) up in Seattle. That defense is much simpler from what he ran in the past.”
According to the source, who asked not to be identified, general manager Brian Gutekunst is going to have to pick players who can handle the complexity of Pettine’s defense. The assistant coaches are going to have to be excellent teachers and the talent should be 3-4 in nature with the ability to play multiple positions.
“Smarts is a major factor when selecting players,” he said. “Smart players willing to study.”
In Cleveland, Pettine liked to have big cornerbacks who could play press coverage so that he could disrupt routes while bringing pressure. His defenses ranked 23rd in 2014 and 27th in ’15 in total yards and 10th and 29th in scoring.
After going 7-9 in ’14, the team collapsed behind a horrible offense that featured Johnny Manziel and Austin Davis at quarterback and finished 3-13.
The key to his defense is flexibility with personnel.
"You have to have the ability to have guys play multiple positions and play multiple jobs," Pettine said in a 2013 story. "I think you have to have guys that can be a defensive end (or) an outside linebacker; a safety (or) an inside linebacker; a nickel (or) an outside corner or a safety.
"A big part of the NFL is identifying guys pre-snap, and we want to limit the amount of pre-snap information we're putting out to an offense. That's why we look for guys that have that type of versatility."
Pettine got his start in the high school ranks, coaching for five years in Pennsylvania. He played quarterback and defensive at Central Bucks High School West, where his father, Mike Pettine Sr., was the head coach. His father is a legend in the Pennsylvania high school ranks, compiling a record of 326-42-4 in 33 seasons and winning four state championships.
The Bears put on a full-court press to bring Fangio back after hiring Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy instead of Fangio as its head coach. Sources have said Fangio expected to talk with the Packers this week, but that won’t happen.
Fangio, like Bradley, became a free agent at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, according to NFL rules, because he does not have a contract for next season. Besides Green Bay and Chicago, there is a known defensive coordinator position open in Detroit and possible openings in Arizona, Indianapolis and New York (Giants).
The Ravens replaced retiring coordinator Dean Pees with in-house candidate Don Martindale and Oakland officially hired former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther Tuesday. Also, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin replaced Guenther in Cincinnati this week.
In addition to hiring a defensive coordinator, McCarthy has to fill position jobs at defensive line and inside linebacker.
McCarthy may have to replace Perry, Whitt or Moss after rejecting all three as his coordinator. All three have had inquiries from other teams in the past and might take this opportunity to move on.
Perry and Whitt have been denied interview requests several times during their tenures in Green Bay and so they’re likely to have interest around the NFL.