CLEVELAND (AP) — Ray Ventrone made a name for himself as a special teams star for the Browns.
“Bubba,” as he’s known, is coming back to Cleveland as a coach.
Ventrone has been hired as an assistant head coach and special teams coordinator for the Browns. He’ll replace Mike Priefer, who was fired earlier this week after four seasons filled with inconsistency by his units.
Ventrone had been the special teams coordinator for Indianapolis since 2018. He interviewed after the season for the Colts’ head coaching job before the team hired Shane Steichen.
The Browns are expected to announce Ventrone’s hiring on Friday.
The 40-year-old Ventrone interviewed with Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski on Wednesday, as did New York Jets assistant special teams coach Leon Washington and New York Giants assistant coach Anthony Blevins.
Ventrone will also have assistant head coach added to his title in Cleveland, meaning he would fill in for Stefanski if necessary. That happened to the Browns in the 2020 playoffs, when Stefanski contracted COVID-19 and Priefer led Cleveland to a wild-card playoff win at Pittsburgh.
Ventrone will counted on to upgrade Cleveland’s special teams, which rarely had a positive impact under Priefer. Ventrone played 56 games with the Browns from 2009-12 after playing two seasons with New England. He retired as a player following the 2014 season with San Francisco.
Ventrone began his coaching career with the Patriots as special teams assistant coach from 2015-17.
With the Colts, Ventrone’s special teams were among the NFL’s best, ranking in the top 10 in four of the past five seasons. Indianapolis averaged a league-best 27.8 yards per kickoff return this past season.
Cleveland’s special teams have often been the cause for losses the past few seasons. The Browns couldn’t recover an onside kick in Week 2, when the Jets overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the final two minutes to win.
Rookie kicker Cade York also struggled under Priefer’s watch, and the Browns’ return game rarely flipped the field.
Stefanski has a few other openings on his staff and hopes to have them filled before leaving for next week’s NFL Combine. Stefanski began the offseason by firing defensive coordinator Joe Woods and replacing him with former Philadelphia Eagles coach Jim Schwartz.
Browns quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing left to be Arizona’s offensive coordinator and defensive line coach Chris Kiffin took a job coaching Houston’s linebackers. Also, Browns defensive backs coach Jeff Howard left to coach the Los Angeles Chargers’ inside linebackers.
Stefanski is set to hire former Utah State defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda to coach Cleveland’s safeties.