Football / Sports

Father proud as Mike Pettine takes over Browns

From 1967 to '99, Mike Pettine's football teams at Central Bucks West in Pennsylvania went 327-42-4. For three of those seasons in the early 1980s, he coached his son Michael, who played quarterback. In Junior's last game, the Bucks lost to Central Bucks East for only the second time. By a point. And Thanksgiving in the Pettine household would never be the same.

"We used to have it every year at our place," the elder Pettine remembered. "That was a tradition. I can still in my mind hear the thump. We're lining up to kick the winning field goal and the kid came up the middle and (the ball) hit him in the chest. I was not very good company. Of course, (Mike) went upstairs and slammed the (bedroom) door. It was like somebody had died.

"The tradition ended that year."

Thursday, 47-year-old Mike Pettine Jr. became the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, after spending the last five seasons as the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. His father and mother, Joyce, were at their winter home in Florida. It was a time for heartfelt reflection.

"It's tough to put into words," the elder Pettine said. "We're on cloud nine. And there's a little disbelief. We had our two daughters first. Michael came along and, naturally, you want a son to go out and play ball with. Not that I don't love my daughters. But that day when I heard, 'It's a boy,' and today are right up there with two of the best days I've ever had.

"I was kidding his mother. I was hard on him as a kid, especially when he played. Well, I guess all the hell I put him through paid off. There were times when he had it, said he quit and was literally stripping off his uniform. Then we'd both calm down and move on. I guess you could say we were both pretty competitive. It wasn't easy for him, playing quarterback for his old man. If I gave him anything, it was the thick skin to survive. He heard a lot of things. By his senior year he learned to let it roll off him. To this day he does a pretty good job with that. He can even tune me out when he wants to."

They remain tight. Dad will be at training camp this summer, just as he's been for the last five. And if Junior wants an opinion or feedback or maybe even advice, he knows where to solicit it.

"I love the fact that he got involved in coaching," the elder Pettine said. "I was able to help him, and he's allowed me to stay involved. He gave me an iPad. They film everything. First he used to send me those little discs, the CDs. He likes to kid people that I was the dinosaur in the age of technology. I called it an ePad. He says I was the last coach in the Delaware Valley to give up 16-millimeter, which I was.

"Once you leave coaching, there's certain aspects you don't miss. But I do miss the chess game, the X's-and-O's, the game-planning. I really enjoy that I still have that outlet through Michael, to send him my critique of how his defense did, or to break down an opponent, how to attack this or that, what to look for. Now I'll drive him crazy, with notes on the offense, defense and special teams. I'll get, 'Well, this is the NFL.' My comeback is, 'Football's football.'

"Schematic-wise, they do things that are light-years ahead. But a lot of little things, fundamentals, I don't think they do as well. He welcomes it, although I sometimes hope he would use more of it."

There was a time when young Mike was working in the insurance business. Later, of course, he wound up as head coach at North Penn, where he went 0-5 against his dad. They even made a documentary, "The Last Game," that chronicled the final meeting.

"I only play that card on rare occasions, usually when he pisses me off," the elder Pettine conceded. "It's kind of amazing that he's risen in the number of years he's done it, because he got into the NFL late. When he was out of the business, he just felt something was missing. And he was sharp from the beginning. I'm more of a grinder. He's lucky he got his mother's IQ and not mine.

"He knows there are no shortcuts. Our yardstick was usually above the performance. They used to come out of our Monday night meeting thinking they'd lost. They used to tell me they hated that. Not resting on your laurels is the toughest thing. I'm sure he's tired of hearing about 'What have you done lately?'

"He was always a stickler for paying attention to detail. His whole thing is the challenge of that chess game. He's bright. I remember preparing for (games against) him, he had a lot of imagination. You had to be on your toes. To be a decent head coach, you have to have a decent knowledge of every aspect of the game. He's not just a defensive guy. He's got a whole notebook."

And he began compiling it as a youngster on the fields of Doylestown. Or maybe even in his living room.

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