In a column Monday, I explored the idea that—from a schematic and strategic standpoint—Cleveland Browns coach and Doylestown native Mike Pettine could turn out to be the right head coach for quarterback Johnny Manziel. But there’s more to Manziel than football, of course. There’s the public and media attention that he attracts. (He showed up at Game 2 of the NBA Finals, for instance, and set Twitter afire once again.)
Nevertheless, Pettine does have some experience he can draw on to help him in this regard, too. He was the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets in 2012, when they courted a season’s worth of controversy by trading for Tim Tebow.
The Jets’ decision to acquire Tebow was problematic from the start and ridiculous by the end. Tebow had believed he’d compete with Mark Sanchez for the team’s starting quarterback job. Then, he was going to be a weapon in some Wildcat/read-option formations. Instead, he played sparingly on offense and on special teams. All the while, the swarm of reporters and cameras around him caused his teammates to roll their eyes and shake their heads. Through little fault of his own, he became an unnecessary distraction—so much so that the Jets released him after one season.
“When you look back on it, how it turned out, you’d have to criticize it in some way,” Pettine said Sunday while attending a football camp at War Memorial Field in Doylestown. “I don’t know specifically what could have been done differently. I just know it’s a different market. He was a guy where the circumstances were a little different. He had already established himself as an NFL player. It’s a little easier with us and Manziel because he understands he earned ‘Johnny Football’ as a college player, and nobody understands it more than him.”
Pettine said that even before the Browns drafted Manziel, the franchise’s brain trust met to discuss how they might deal with the noise that would accompany his arrival and presence. “We said, ‘If we take Manziel, let’s take a couple of minutes and talk about the initial plan and the long-term plan.’ And then we had to have a much more detailed meeting after it happened,” he said. “It was easy for us, because it was football-first. He’s one of 90 guys. We understand what he is outside the building, but we’re going to make all decisions based on football, and when you stop doing that, that’s when you start to make mistakes.”
The Browns have limited media access to Manziel so far, allowing just local reporters to interview him during recent practices, for instance. Pettine said that in 2012, he wasn’t involved in many of the Jets’ discussions about their Tebow media policy. Those meetings generally included coach Rex Ryan, then-general manager Mike Tannenbaum, and members of the team’s public-relations department.
That season, the Jets had Tebow speak in a group setting twice a week and arranged some one-on-one interviews with Tebow after training camp began, depending on the topic that the media member wished to discuss with him.
“In New York, it’s sometimes difficult to handle the volume of the media,” Pettine said. “We understand there’s a lot going on that we can’t control, but we’re going to try to control what we can control.”