These are, after all, the Browns. They haven't won an NFL championship since 1964 and haven't even made the playoffs since 2002. They fired their previous coach, Rob Chudzinski, after one season - one season! - and it took them nearly a month to decide you were the man to replace him.
No matter. This was your goal all along, from growing up in Doylestown to playing at Central Bucks West and coaching at William Tennent and North Penn, through your career as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator in the NFL, and maybe it's difficult for others to appreciate the sacrifices you made, the risks you took. You thank Banner. You thank Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone, who hired you the year before as his defensive coordinator. You thank New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who's been a friend and confidant since your days together with the Baltimore Ravens.
Then you begin talking about the last person you need to thank. He's the person to whom you owe the most.
You're Mike Pettine Jr. You're 46 years old, and you've just turned down a contract-extension offer from the Jets. Once the 2012 season ends, you're going, going, gone.
You've been their defensive coordinator since 2009, when Ryan became their head coach. You've helped the Jets reach two AFC championship games, and you call all the defense's signals and run the show in meetings and practices, but there's this perception you can't shake - that you're riding Ryan's coattails, that he's Holmes and you're just his Watson, that you'll never get a shot to be a head coach if you stay.
Now the defense is still very good, but the team isn't. The Jets will finish 6-10, and your father, Mike Pettine Sr., can't help but wonder whether it would be more prudent for you to accept their offer. It would be the safe thing to do. You know how fathers are.
"I'm thinking, 'At the end of the year, the whole staff could be fired. Now you're out of a job,' " Mike Pettine Sr. says later. "It was a bold move."
You're Mike Pettine Jr. You're 35 years old, and you're about to take the biggest chance of your life. That's the way everyone else looks at it, even if you don't.
It's 2002. You're the computer coordinator and head football coach at North Penn, and you're about to resign both jobs to accept an entry-level position with the Ravens as a computer/video technician. There's no guarantee you'll become a coach. Your take-home pay will be cut in half, and you'll have to empty your 401(k) account to make ends meet, but this decision is a no-brainer, because all you need is an opportunity to show someone how smart and diligent you are, and you'll be on your way. In your mind, there's no risk here at all.
Besides, you're ready to leave North Penn. Your record there is 45-15, and you've elevated the program to a place among the state's elite, and it's all but irrelevant because you're not your father. You're not Mike Pettine Sr., who won 326 games and four state championships at Central Bucks West and is generally considered the greatest high school football coach in Pennsylvania history.
It was hard enough to play quarterback for him - remember Thanksgiving 1983, when West lost to its rival, C.B. East, and you spent the afternoon and night locked in your room, no turkey, no stuffing, nothing but bitter silence? But you've had to coach against him, too. You faced him five times, including once for the district championship, and lost all five. That winless record still nags at you.
In your ambition, though, maybe you sometimes forget how hard it's been for him. In the closing seconds of the first game you coached against each other, with West holding a 21-point lead, your father was wiping tears from his eyes until his assistant, Mike Carey, put his arm around him and said, "Don't worry. Michael's time will come."
He retires from West after the 1999 season and joins your staff at North Penn in 2001, but both of you possess fierce tempers, and you often interpret his advice as a sign of distrust. During one game, you look up at him in the coaches' booth and mutter something unrepeatable and slam your headset to the ground, and even he can see it's time for you to move on to something bigger and better and all your own.
Still, he never wanted to leave the high school level, certainly never dreamed of coaching in the pros, and now you're making that jump, and he's worried: What if it doesn't work out? You know how fathers are.
"I thought," Mike Pettine Sr. says later, "it was a huge risk."
Mike Pettine Sr. was sitting in his winter home in Florida late Thursday afternoon. His wife, Joyce, was next to him, watching their son hold his first news conference as an NFL head coach. "Do you believe this is happening?" she said. He did, and he didn't.
"My biggest influence was my dad," Mike Pettine Jr. told reporters in Cleveland. "I've worked for some great coaches. I've played for some great coaches. But all my roots, my foundations, go back to my dad."
Hours earlier, the elder Pettine had e-mailed his son a two-page letter with advice on how he should handle the questions he was likely to face during the news conference. Now the younger Pettine was standing there, and darn if his answers didn't sound as if he'd read the letter and committed the recommendations to memory - not that he would ever admit such a thing. You know how sons can be.
Later that night, family members and friends and reporters called Mike Pettine Sr. nonstop, and he told them the same thing: that all parents want their children to go farther, to achieve more, than they did. That his son had done that. That no father could be prouder.
You're Mike Pettine Sr. You're 73 years old, and your dream has come true.