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.
Although Gase appears to be the front-runner, there's no guarantee he'll be hired by the Browns — or if he even wants the job.
Gase's interview likely will take place soon after the Broncos are finished playing. That could be as soon as Sunday or as late as Feb. 3, if Denver advances to the Super Bowl.
Haslam said the Browns, who haven't been to the AFC playoffs since 2002, will remain patient.
"We are prepared to wait as long as necessary because this is a very important decision," said Haslam, Cleveland's owner since 2012. "Everyone in our organization is committed to finding the right leader for our team."
The lingering search has created the appearance that the job is not appealing. Haslam, though, insists the Cleveland coaching spot is a "very attractive position."
"We have one of the youngest teams in the League, a roster that includes five Pro Bowlers," he said. "In addition, we have more salary-cap room than all but one NFL team. We also have three of the top 35 picks in the upcoming draft and five of the top 83 selections."
The Browns also interviewed Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who could get a second meeting when the Seahawks' season ends. New England coordinator Josh McDaniels and Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles removed their names from consideration. Ken Whisenhunt met with the Browns before he was hired by Tennessee, and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo interviewed with Cleveland but was hired Tuesday as the New York Giants' offensive coordinator.
Former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak met with Haslam and Browns CEO Joe Banner this week.
During the Browns' search, other prominent names emerged, including Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. However, neither is believed to be on Cleveland's radar.
It's also possible the team will ask to meet with San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
As they look for a new coach, the Browns have granted permission for offensive coordinator Norv Turner to interview with the Vikings, and they've told defensive coordinator Ray Horton he can interview for the same position in Tennessee.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org