GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy didn’t need to court anyone else. The Green Bay Packers coach apparently decided he had his man — ex-Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine — for the team’s defensive coordinator position not long after interviewing him.
An NFL source confirmed Pettine was in Green Bay Tuesday for an interview, and ESPN reported Tuesday night the Packers were in the process of hiring Pettine. Another league source confirmed Pettine was McCarthy’s pick to replace Dom Capers, whom McCarthy fired Dec. 31.
The Packers didn’t announce Pettine’s hiring, though McCarthy is likely holding off on any staff announcements until all of the team’s coaching vacancies are filled.
One NFL source had said earlier Tuesday that McCarthy was interested in ex-Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley for the job, though both men were drawing interest from their previous teams.
As of Tuesday night, NFL Network was reporting both men were likely to stay with their teams, despite being free agents.
Pettine, 51, is a coaching descendant of former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan. Pettine broke into the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens in 2002, serving as a coaching assistant for two years (2002-03) and spending 2004 as the team’s assistant defensive line coach before spending four seasons (2005-08) as Baltimore’s outside linebackers coach. Ryan was the Ravens’ defensive line coach in 2004 and defensive coordinator from 2005 through 2008.
When Ryan became the Jets’ coach in 2009, he brought Pettine with him, and Pettine spent four years in charge of the Jets defense, which finished No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense (14.8 points per game) and total defense (252.3 yards per game) in 2009; sixth (19.0) and third (291.5) in 2010; 20th (22.7) and fifth (312.1) in 2011; and 20th (23.4) and eighth (323.4) in 2012.
Ryan overhauled his staff after the 2012 season, and Pettine went to Buffalo, where the Bills finished 2013 ranked 20th in scoring defense (24.3) and 10th in total defense (333.4).
Pettine was hired as the Browns’ head coach in 2014 and went 10-22 in two seasons. The Browns started the 2014 season 7-4 under Pettine before losing their final five games. Cleveland went 3-13 in 2015.
The son of a highly successful high school coach, Pettine spent the past two years largely out of football, though he did work as a consultant to the Seattle Seahawks in 2017.
One thing that might’ve appealed to McCarthy was Pettine’s hybrid defensive style. McCarthy said last week he didn’t feel the Packers defense was truly a 3-4 scheme anymore because they play so many nickel and dime packages with extra defensive backs.
When Pettine went to Buffalo, he proclaimed his defensive philosophy couldn’t be pigeon-holed as a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
“It’s a situation where I think people try to compartmentalize too much, and just broad stroke it. 4-3? 3-4? What are you? And my answer to that question is ‘Yes’ to all of the above,” Pettine told the Bills’ website in 2013. “We are a multiple-front, attacking, pressure-style defense. We’re going to play man coverage, we’re going to play zone coverage. What we’re going to do defensively is take advantage of what our players do well.
“I’m not bringing any defense here; this is going to be the Buffalo Bills defense. It’s going to be built around the explosive athletes that are here, starting with the front — that’s the solid foundation here — moving to the linebackers and the secondary that’s stacked behind them.”
Fangio interviewed for the Bears’ head-coaching position that went to ex-Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who in turn wanted to keep him as his defensive coordinator, having seen Fangio coordinate five top-10 defenses in the past seven years.
ESPN reported Tuesday afternoon that the Packers had asked for permission to interview Bradley, the ex-Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, though Chargers coach Anthony Lynn had made it clear he wanted Bradley to return next season and appeared likely to get his wish.
Fangio’s Bears defense finished ninth in the 32-team NFL in scoring defense (20.0 points per game) and 10th in total defense (319.1 yards per game) this past season. Bradley’s Chargers defense finished third in the NFL in scoring defense (17.0 points per game) and 15th in total defense (328.4 yards per game).
McCarthy previously interviewed three internal candidates for the defensive coordinator job — cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, safeties coach Darren Perry and linebackers coach Winston Moss.The Packers finished the 2017 season 26th in scoring defense (24.0) and 22nd in yards allowed (348.9). They were 17th against the run (112.1), 23rd against the pass (236.8), 28th in third-down defense (allowing a 42.8 percent conversion rate) and 31st in red-zone defense (allowing a 65.2 percent touchdown rate).
McCarthy hinted that his new coordinator might be an outside candidate when he spoke to reporters last week.
“Each and every year, you look for changes, adjustments, and things you need to continue to emphasize, an opportunity to grow,” McCarthy said. “It’s important to set the course, set the vision, the path to win the next world championship. That’s the same focus I have each and every year. You always look first internally, (to see if) you feel you that you can accomplish that. This year, which is out of the norm over the way we’ve operated particularly the last nine years, we will be adding external resources.”
Wolf visits Browns
A league source confirmed an ESPN report that Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf interviewed Tuesday with Browns general manager John Dorsey, his former colleague in Green Bay. Last week, Dorsey added another ex-Packers personnel executive when he lured Alonzo Highsmith to Cleveland.
New Packers GM Brian Gutekunst, who like Dorsey is one of Wolf’s good friends, said upon his introduction Monday he wanted to keep Wolf as his “right-hand man.”
But after being passed over for the GM job and blocked from interviewing for other jobs by departed GM Ted Thompson at least twice in past years, Wolf may decide he needs a fresh start elsewhere rather than returning to Green Bay, where his father, Ron, restored the Packers to prominence in the 1990s.
Gutekunst said Monday he’d like to get a decision from Eliot Wolf, who is under contract with the Packers, sooner rather than later but that he would not block him from opportunities elsewhere. That said, Gutekunst emphasized he wanted his friend to remain in Green Bay as he rebuilds a Packers roster with obvious holes.
“I sure want him to be part of this,” Gutekunst said. “I think the world of Eliot Wolf, not only as a scout but he’s also very close to me as a friend. So yeah, he obviously has other opportunities if he wants them. That’s kind of between me and Eliot. But I’m very hopeful that he’ll be here.”
ESPN also reported the younger Wolf has an offer to join ex-Packers personnel exec Reggie McKenzie and new coach Jon Gruden in Oakland, where his father first made a name for himself in personnel under late Raiders owner Al Davis.