INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Friday afternoon, Mike Pettine learned the Cleveland Browns had tried in January to send draft picks to San Francisco to acquire Jim Harbaugh to be the team’s coach.
A team official called Pettine to warn him the story would break.
His initial response was to, as he said, shoot the messenger.
“I asked, ‘How does this affect my tenure as the Cleveland Browns' head coach? Has that changed?’” Pettine said Saturday morning at the NFL combine. “The obvious answer was 'no.' Then I think my next line had something to do with having the word flying in it, or it referenced a part of a rat’s body.”
So Pettine didn't care a flying fig or a rat’s patootie that the Browns tried to trade for Harbaugh.
“It doesn't faze me,” he said. “That’s noise to me.”
His words were strong, but the look in his eyes and his face didn't match the words. Pettine almost seemed to be rolling his eyes at yet another report, this one from ProFootballTalk.com.
How close the Browns came to accomplishing a deal is up for debate. San Francisco owner Jed York posted on Twitter that the report was “not true.” Others said the Browns never asked the 49ers for permission to talk to Harbaugh, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the Browns and 49ers had serious discussions. Clearly the idea was discussed, and Harbaugh -- who led the 49ers to the past three NFC Championship Games -- was the mystery candidate then-Browns CEO Joe Banner declined to name.
The attempt to hire Harbaugh could be looked at a number of ways. The half-full view is they tried to find an established coach. The half-empty view says the front office really wasn't on the same page, that as it was talking to Pettine it was trying to hire Harbaugh.
Pettine could view it that he truly was an alternate choice, a guy the team settled on rather than the guy the team wanted. Now he could wonder how committed the Browns are to him.
Pettine does not look at it that way.
“What it tells me is that the Cleveland Browns have a desire to win and want to get this team back to a championship level,” he said. “To me it shows the commitment, but as far as how it affects me and my approach to how I’m going to coach this football team and how we are moving forward, it has zero effect.”
The Harbaugh deal was in the works when Banner and former general manager Mike Lombardi were in place with the Browns. Lombardi and Harbaugh have a close relationship, so the effort to bring Harbaugh aboard could have been his.
But just when the Browns seemed headed toward some sense of normalcy, the news broke and Pettine had to refer to a rat’s backside. In the short time he’s been with the Browns, the two guys who hired him have been fired, he’s working for a GM he didn't meet until the day he was hired (inside video on the team’s web site showed Lombardi introducing Pettine to Ray Farmer that day), and he's dealing with questions about a trade for another coach.
Quickly he’s learned what life can be like with the Cleveland Browns.
“A big thing about being a head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions,” he said. “Just add that one to the list.”
It’s hardly one that could have been expected, though.
The way he said it, Pettine seemed startled and maybe even weary of all the drama. He didn't hide that reality when he was asked if the drama in Cleveland seems more frequent than in other cities.
“That potentially is an accurate statement,” Pettine said. “I’d like to think that it’s going to get quieter. That’s my goal, to quiet the noise. The sooner I can get off this podium and go in there and find some players to help the Browns the better. I know a lot’s happened. But it’s my goal to get the staff I've hired moving forward, that we can quiet things down and go about the business of winning football games.”
To that end, one of the first things he showed the new coaching staff was a little bit of Browns history. He showed a PowerPoint with a slide showing that since 1991, the Browns have been to the playoffs twice and won once.
“In those 23 years, there’s been 141 coaches,” he said. “The challenge for them was ‘How are we going to be different?’”