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Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine Speaks at the NFL Combine (Transcript)

What did the Cleveland Browns head coach have to say about the quarterback position, the type of defense he will run, and the Jim Harbaugh rumors?

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine spoke at the NFL Combine this morning, facing a series of questions from reporters. Pettine first met with the local media, and then took on the national media. Based on two videos from the Akron Beacon Journal (Part 1 | Part 2), I transcribed the conference with the local media.

Compared to Ray Farmer's interview the other day, I thought Pettine provided some more substance, emphasizing the need for a quarterback, and talking about the Jim Harbaugh rumors. React to anything interesting that Pettine said in the comments section below.

Pettine Talks to the Local Media

Transcribed by Chris Pokorny

(Do you have any priorities this week?): "We have a lot of priorities. Quarterback is the obvious one, we're going to be very meticulous there. It's not going to end there. I think we need to make sure in our search for Cleveland Browns that we are very meticulous and I think the staff's already off to a good start finding most of those guys."

(What do you think about Johnny Football?): "I haven't had a chance to sit down -- I've done a little TV scatting, but haven't really gotten into the nuts and bolts so it's hard to judge somebody based on highlights and some game film. That's something that our quarterback project will be lengthy and take some time, whether it is somebody coming out of the draft, or whether it is a veteran, whoever we see fit to fill that position, that's how we'll proceed."

(Will you meet with all three of the top quarterbacks here?): "As Ray [Farmer] said, I'm not going to comment on who we're going to interview. It's a process -- we'll gather all of the information, whether that's here or whether it's at a workout, we'll gather the information we need."

(Your thoughts on WR Sammy Watkins): "Explosive athlete. I think any time you can add somebody to your team who can score points, can make explosive plays, that's what the NFL is all about. Being a defensive coach, you think about, 'we're going to play great defense and run the football.' I don't think you can win that way in the NFL any more. You have to have players who, when they get their hands on the ball, are special, and I think he falls into that category."

(Do you want to play a 3-4 or a 4-3 as your base defense?): "Yes. (laughter) We're multiple. We'll be in both fronts, and if you can draw the front, I think that's been the key to our success, whether that was with Rex's tenure in Baltimore, when I took over in New York, and certainly in Baltimore, that we'll be multiple-front, multiple-coverage."

(Manziel and Bortles are so different when they play the game -- so different physically. What style of a passer do you want?): "I think that's going to come down to the combined effort of the staff. When I look at Kyle's background, he was able to succeed with a Matt Schaub or an RGIII, and I don't think you could be further apart on the spectrum of a skill set. That gives me confidence that whoever we take, whoever ends up fitting that position, will be a player who gives us the best chance to win."

(What does it mean to be a championship quarterback?): "Being a championship quarterback does not mean making him win the championship himself. You saw that happen in Seattle. Would you put Russell Wilson in the Top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL? No. It's a team sport, they played great defense, the supporting cast around him was tremendous, and the very first thing he did was he didn't lose games. I think that's the key to success. There are some rare quarterbacks who can do that in this league, but there's not that many of them. If you don't have that guy, don't put yourself in position where the quarterback has to win the game."

(When you talk about the 3-4, 4-3, and being versatile, how does it affect signing guys or picking guys in the draft?): "What I think it does is it opens up our options. We're not limited in the type of football player we can take. If there's a guy who is an explosive athlete who can make plays for us defensively, then we'll find a spot for him. Fitting the system to the players -- let it be the player's system. We won't have guys we'll circle on the board and say, 'well, he's not a fit for us schematically.' If he's an outstanding player who can be productive in this league, we'll find that home for him."

(Do you expect to have D'Qwell Jackson on your football team this year?): "He's currently under contract. He came into town and he and I sat down and had a great meeting. It's easy to see why he's so highly thought of -- the leadership ability and the intangibles that to me are off-the-charts."

(But his contract situation calls for...): "I'm not going to speak on that. He's currently under contract. We'll make that decision in the coming weeks."

(When did you meet with Jackson?): "It was within the first week I was hired that he was in town and he bounced right up to the office. You can tell he's special."

(What are your thoughts on the Jim Harbaugh story?): "When I got the phone call, I did a little bit of 'shooting the messenger' first. Then I asked, 'How does this affect my tenure as the Cleveland Browns head coach? Has that changed?' The obvious answer was, 'No.' I think my next line had something to do with, or had the word 'flying' in it or had reference to a rat's body. It doesn't faze me. That's noise to me. What it tells me is that the Cleveland Browns have the desire to win and want to get this team back to a championship level. To me, it shows the commitment. 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."

(So it's been confirmed, or it's your understanding, that they did pursue Jim Harbaugh): "No, I was just told what was about to be reported (shrugs)"

(What do you think of the depth of players so far at the Combine?): "We won't be able to comment on the depth until we get past all of it on Tuesday. Just the quality that we've seen so far of the offensive linemen we've had come in the meeting room, the handful of receivers and running backs we've had come in, not just they are great players on the field, but the way these young men carry themselves, has been very refreshing."

(How high up is running back a priority for you, and will you get a new running back for the Browns?): "We're going to be all about taking the best player available in that spot. If it happens to be a running back, it's a running back. It's hard to be that three-down back any more in the NFL. I think most of the successful teams have a committee approach. I think you need to have depth there, given the pounding that position will take. We're going to make a commitment to running the football. Obviously, that position is a priority to us."

(With all of the picks you have, are you of the belief that you could get some value in the draft with one of those guys from a smaller school at the quarterback position?): "I would agree with that -- with the number of picks that we have. If things don't work out where we don't get the quarterback early, all options are open. We're not locked in to saying, 'we have to take a quarterback early in the draft.' Just look at the final four in the NFL last year. You had a 6th round pick which was an absolutely anomaly in Brady, the first pick in the draft in Manning, and the 49ers and the Seahawks did it going another way. There are a lot of different ways of winning in this league."

(Another story out here is that Jarius Byrd has been connected to the Browns): "Byrd, unfortunately it's a cliche, is under contract with another team, so I really can't comment on him. I had a great time with him in Buffalo. He's an outstanding player."

(Do you feel Gipson can move to strong safety if you choose to...): "We don't talk about our guys in terms of 'free' and 'strong.' Our safeties are interchangeable -- I think that's key to our success, to have guys who have the interchangeable skill set. Teams can force safeties to change jobs in any way by some of the things they can do pre-snap. We want guys who can do a little bit of both."

(Do you see Gipson being able to do a little bit of both?): "Uhh, yeah. In studying him so far in the offseason, he's a solid player."

(If you can't bring back T.J. Ward or Alex Mack or both, what does that do to your roster?): "Again, those are ongoing situations and I'm not going to comment on our potential unrestricted free agents."

(Last year [in Buffalo], you guys set a franchise record in sacks, and the league was way up in sacks. How do some of these offensive linemen deal with these athletic edge rushers?): "Well, they are always going to be going against better athletes. I think your scheme has to help them. I think you have to have some interference in that C-gap area. Any time you are giving up open edges, especially when you are on the road when there is crowd noise, I think that's very difficult for an offensive linemen to go backwards and defending that that's coming full speed and faster than him in most cases from the other direction, you have to help those guys, mix your snap count, and other things whether it's chipping a guy, double teaming a guy, turning the protection, occasional cut block, you have to have a variety of tools. I think only the special tackles in the league can handle the open edge."

(After evaluating your roster for a month, what do you think are the biggest needs?): "Everybody talks about the quarterback spot, that's the obvious one, but we have some good players here. We're right at the tail end of the evaluation part of it. There are some open spots -- that's the reason we're here. We're looking for guys who can be the next batch of Cleveland Browns -- we want to make that mean something -- being a Cleveland Brown is special. When you play like a Brown, there's the toughness part of it, has passion, they love football, they are instinctive and gym rats. Those are the types of guys we are looking for."

(Do you think you need more speed, especially on defense?): "To me, it is a size and speed league for sure. Given the nature of spread offenses, I don't think you can be...I've always been one that I'd rather have smaller guys who are faster, and the best place that usually shows up as your linebacking corp. You look for guys who can run and hit guys and go sideline-to-sideline. I think that you can win with any type, but given what's coming from college and what's coming from the spread, I think you need to emphasize speed over size."

(Do you have some ideas on how to best utilize Barkevious Mingo?): "He was a guy we very highly rated in Buffalo. He'll definitely be one of our outside linebacker. The obvious question that has come up with him is his size and his ability to put weight on. That's something that's going to be a priority for us. I've had some communication with Alex Mack when he was in Brazil. I know that Mingo's down there, so I said P.S. on my email to make sure that he [Mingo] is getting enough to eat. That'll be a priority when we sit down with him -- we'll make sure it's not bad weight, we'll do it the right way. He has freakish ability. I think putting on weight is one of the easiest things to do. It's harder to get more explosive or more athletic. I think adding muscle mass, I think that's one of the easier things to do if you approach it the right way. We look forward to getting him back on campus and attacking that head on."

Pettine Talks to the National Media

(Does he miss Buffalo?): "Everything but the weather. I joke that I went to Cleveland to get to a nicer climate. I check it every couple days. It’s been about a degree or two warmer in Cleveland. So it looks like I made the right move."

(Harbaugh rumors): "I got a phone call saying that report was going to come out and I shot the messenger a little. I asked how does that affect my tenure as the head coach? I think my next sentence used the word ‘flying’ followed by something or referenced a part of a rat’s body. I think that’s noise. It has no bearing on my job moving forward. That’s a critical thing. A big thing about being a head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions. Just add that one to the list."

(On the Browns not denying the report): "I think when you look at it, I think it shows the organization’s committed to getting it turned around, that it would investigate that option. I see that as a positive."

(See Clowney?): "Not yet. In the coming days."

(Can Clowney fit?): "We’re always looking to have explosive athletes. That to me, you want to be successful in the NFL, you need guys with size and explosion and he certainly fits into that category."

(Is running back a priority?): "It’s a priority. But we’re not going to be in the business of drafting for need. I think there are a variety of ways to fill the roster out. We’ll look at what’s available in free agency. We’ll get back from the combine and continue to churn through the tape of the college prospects. We want to put ourselves in the position when we draft that we’re taking the highest rated player at that spot as opposed to need. While running back is a critical thing, I think it’s something that we’ll definitely have a plan for."

(Reaction on firings of Banner and Lombardi): "I was surprised. It was a little bittersweet. I owe a lot to Mike and Joe. Wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for them. In a short time with them, I learned a lot. But the reaction for me was that it was also a clear message from Jimmy that he recognized there were some issues and some obstacles to being successful and he wanted to clear things up."

(Does it make it more difficult for you?): "Not at all. If it’s not something that’s going to affect my ability to lead the Cleveland Browns, then it’s something I can’t worry about. I’m full speed ahead with Ray Farmer. Ray and I have had a chance to sit down and talk about our visition for the team and bounce things back and forth on kind of a punch list of what it takes to be successful in the NFL. We have a shared vision that neither of us had to stray far from our core philosophy -- draft, free agency, training camp, football A to Z. Even though he’s a Duke guy and I’m a Virginia guy, we see a lot of things the same."

(T.J. Ward's future?): "That’s something when we leave the combine -- those decisions are looming, but that’s not something I’m going to comment on at this time."

(On the offense): "I think there’s some explosive players. I think our offensive staff did a good job getting in and evaluating what was on campus first. I don’t think you can start looking elsewhere until you’ve evaluate your own. I think it’s a mix of some good veteran players with some young explosive talent and then we’re looking forward to the draft, with 10 draft picks, and our cap space to supplement that talent we have."

(Greg Little, where does he stand?): "I know Greg was high on our draft board where I was last year. He’s a big, explosive athlete. I know he had some struggles this year. I really can’t speak to why. He’s a guy I know our offensive staff is looking forward to getting back on campus and getting a chance to work with."

(Evaluating your QB situation): "Brian Hoyer, who’s ahead of schedule with his rehab. We’re looking forward to getting him back to where at least he’ll do some limited work in the spring. I’ve always admired Brian from afar. We played against him last year. Unfortunately that was the game he was injured. He’s proven he can be successful in the NFL, but at the same time, you’re always looking to make the team better and that’s the most important position. So we’re going to do a lengthy evaluation on what’s available in the draft, what’s available in free agency, what’s on campus, and make that decision for what’s going to give us the best chance to win."

(If Weeden has a future): "We evaluate players on what they’ve done in the league. We have our opinion and that’s something moving forward, as that position shapes, it will work itself out."

(Thoughts on Teddy Bridgewater): "I haven’t studied him enough. Coming from defense, I don’t consider myself a quarterback expert. I know what good ones look like, but as far as the graduate level details, I’ll lean on the offensive staff, on Dowell Loggains, the quarterback coach, and Kyle (Shanahan), and I’ve already started to have meetings with them, just speaking in general terms of what they’re looking for in a quarterback. They come in all shapes and sizes. We’re looking for one that’s going to maximize our ability to win. Even though the quarterback’s a priority, we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where the quarterback has to win the game. I think that’s where some teams make mistakes. Even though it’s the most important position. If you don’t have that guy that you feel, whether it’s Brady or Manning that can take over a game and win it for you. The Seahawks’ model, they proved it. If you surround him with a great defense and a great running game and you protect him and teach your team how to not lose games first ad then to win them second, I think there’s a lot of different ways to win in the NFL. While the quarterback is a priority, we need to make sure we’re solid around him and make his job easier."

(More noise in Cleveland than elsewhere, it seems?): "That potentially is an accurate statement. 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."

(New QB is face of franchise, how much that a factor in evaluation?): "I think that’s true of any position. I think the evaluation of character is just as important as the evaluation of their ability. When we talk about guys we want to bring in and play like a Brown, I think high character is one of the most important aspects. Certainly the quarterback, given the position of leadership, has to possess it above all else."

(Comment on Bill Kuharich, personnel consultant to Ray Farmer): "Bill’s an outstanding evaluator of talent. I had a chance to spend some time with him yesterday sitting in the stands watching the kicker workout. He and Ray are very similar in how they see things, which means we all are similar in how we see things."

(Khalil Mack in Buffalo last year): "Even though he was in our backyard, I did not (see him a lot). I saw a few highlights on TV."

(Any regrets in taking this job?): "No, because that’s negative. To me, this is a dream come true. I pinch myself every day. I wake up in the morning and I say, ‘I’m head coach of the Cleveland Browns. I can’t wait to get to work.’ There’s so much negative, I think you can get overwhelmed by it. I don’t see it that way. I know that I’m very blessed to be here. That my path was different. I think that’s helped to motivate me. I’m the proverbial guys from the mail room. I don’t have the pedigree that some other coaches have, that were former players, or the big college name coaches. I feel I’ve worked my way up and had a lot to overcome. I think that’s helped motivate me. That’s been a chip on my shoulder, whether it’s real or perceived, that that guy’s just a high school coach or that guy just gets Rex’s coffee. That’s what’s motivated me and I think a big part of why I’m here today."

(Tired of the noise already? Eager to have a normal year?): "The noise, I try not to listen to it. Zak our PR director brings it to me. I’m not actively pursuing it. I told the staff we’re behind, in our first staff meeting. That they need to understand the magnitude of the job we were taking on. Anytime you’re trying to turn the franchise around, you have to be extraordinary. I put up a power point slide, since 1991 the Browns have two playoff appearances and won one playoff game. And in those 23 years, there’s been 141 coaches. The challenge for them was how are we going to be different? Hopefully we’ll have results to back that up in the fall."

(Can Michael Sam exist in a locker room?): "I just think in today’s culture -- I applaud what he did. In the NFL, it’s a results business. Can Michael Sam help the Cleveland Browns win? If he can then there’s a good chance he’ll be a part of our football team."

(What stood out about Kyle Shanahan?): "His experience. He’s a guy that called plays in the NFL for six years. He started out young. I’ve got a soft spot for coaches’ kids, being one myself. Because he started so early, his time is almost like dog years. I think he’s been coordinating since he was 26. And he’s been successful in a variety of ways. That was the most encouraging thing to me, that there wasn’t just one way he got it done. He did it with a quarterback like Matt Schaub, got it done with RG3. Did it with a premier wideout like Andre Johnson, then he did it with the likes of Pierre Garcon in Washington. He’s been in the top in the league in rushing statistics, also in passing statistics. There isn’t one way that he got it done."

(Concerned about the way it ended for him in Washington?): "Not at all. We spoke about it at length when he came in for the interview. It was a zero factor."

(What's the plan to keep the negativity out?): "I think my job as a head coach is to build a work atmosphere where guys are like me, they can’t wait to get to work in the morning. WE’RE going to have to be that way. I’m not going to rule with an iron fist. It’s going to be positive. As far as the environment, I think it’s all about information, making sure it’s flowing both ways. That’s my job as a HC to make sure everybody has what they need to be successful. I’m a big fan of the servant leadership model. What can I do to help you do your job. My coaches are going to get tired of me asking. That’s my job to remove those obstacles. It’s a very sensitive subject in the NFL. I don’t foresee it being a problem in Cleveland because of the positive atmosphere we’re going to create."