CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is asking Cleveland fans to be patient as he looks to replace the coach he fired after one season.
With criticism growing as the search drags on, Haslam sent a letter to fans Wednesday in which he explained the Browns' "methodical" hunt for a "strong coach."
Haslam fired Rob Chudzinski last month following a 4-12 season, forcing the Browns to look for their seventh full-time coach since 1999 and fourth in six years.
The owner said the team has spoken to a "number of outstanding candidates" and indicated he and CEO Joe Banner will meet with assistant coaches currently in the NFL playoffs.
"We have purposefully been very methodical in our approach," Haslam said in the letter released by the team and posted on its website. "We believe it is very important to stay disciplined to this process and to interview all of the candidates on our list. We are strongly committed to finding the right person to coach the Cleveland Browns."
Buffalo confirmed Wednesday night that it had granted the Browns permission to interview Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The 47-year-old just completed his first season with Buffalo after four as the New York Jets' defensive coordinator.
The Browns were the first team to fire a coach after the season, and they'll be the last to hire one now that the Minnesota Vikings have agreed to a contract with former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who interviewed for the Cleveland opening a year ago.
When Chudzinski was dismissed, Haslam made it clear the Browns would take as long as needed to find a "proven winner." But as days turned to weeks and several candidates took jobs elsewhere or other names surfaced and were quickly dismissed, a perception took hold that the front office was not on the same page.
There also have been rumblings that the Browns have been spurned by candidates and are fixated on hiring Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Haslam's unexpected letter seemed to be the team's attempt to quell some of the outside noise.
Cleveland has interviewed six known candidates and the team intends to meet with Gase when the Broncos' season ends. Gase was the first candidate contacted by the Browns after Chudzinski was let go. The 35-year-old Gase told the Browns and Vikings he wanted to wait until after the season.