CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns’ coaching search — or is it a scramble? — could be nearing a conclusion.
Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is the front-runner to become the team’s seventh full-time coach and will reportedly have a third interview with the team on Thursday.
Team officials interviewed Pettine on Tuesday night in Mobile, Ala., site of the Senior Bowl, and although the sides did not reach a deal during their four-hour meeting, enough progress was made to move forward.
And as the focus narrowed on the 47-year-old Pettine, a “mystery” candidate emerged.
The team reportedly interviewed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano on Wednesday in Florida, but a person familiar with Cleveland’s coaching search told The Associated Press that Schiano will not be hired by the Browns. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting on the search, said there is “zero chance” of Schiano taking over in Cleveland.
Schiano was fired by the Bucs Dec. 30 after posting a 11-21 record during his two seasons.
Earlier, Pettine, who spent one season with the Bills after four on Rex Ryan’s staff with the New York Jets, told Cleveland.com that he “should have some feedback on my interview by the end of the day.”
A person familiar with the Browns’ plans told the AP on Tuesday night that the team intended to interview an unknown candidate on Wednesday. The club, too, was expected to meet with Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter at some point.
Pettine is the first candidate known to have a follow-up interview with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner, general manager Michael Lombardi and team president Alec Scheiner. Cleveland has met with at least nine known candidates.
The team initially interviewed Pettine on Jan. 16, and following the interview, Pettine’s teenage daughter, Megan, tweeted that her dad was going to meet again with the team while taking a not-so-subtle shot at the Browns.
“It’s the browns,” she posted on a Twitter account since deleted. “But hey, still pretty cool!”
The Browns, who fired Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 following one season, are also expected to conduct a second interview with Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He was the first candidate to meet with the team and the director of the NFL’s top-rated defense could sit down with Cleveland’s front office before Sunday.
Because the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl, league rules require the Browns to speak with any assistants in that game by Jan. 26.
However, the Browns are not permitted to finalize a deal with any assistant coach participating in the Super Bowl until after the game, so Cleveland may have to wait until Feb. 3 if they want to hire Quinn.
It’s possible, though, the team could decide Pettine is their choice and can name him their coach at any time.