Before new Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine addressed the media on Thursday he posed with owner Jimmy Haslam for pictures. As the two held a Browns helmet, Haslam asked his new coach quietly through their smiles. “What did your Dad say?”
Haslam knew it was the first call this son would make.
Mike Pettine Jr. would not be the Browns head coach without Mike Pettine Sr. who shared with his son not only his name but his love of the sport of football.
The elder Pettine is a high school football coaching legend in Pennsylvania, retiring in 1999 with an astounding 326-32-4 record and four state titles at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown outside of Philadelphia.
Five of those wins came over his son who was following in his father’s footsteps coaching at North Penn High School until 2002.
That was the year this then 35-year-old father of three decided to do what few would, leave a comfortable life, uproot his family and move to Baltimore for an entry level video coordinator job with the Ravens that carried with it no promises of turning into anything more.
“I was going to bet on myself,” Pettine said of that decision. “I felt confident that if I just got my foot in the door that people would appreciate my work ethic and that things would progress,” he said.
His father said he remembered being happy his son was pursuing his dream but was worried.
“My concern is, 'OK you’re married, children, what’s the income?'” Mike Sr. recalled asking his son. “He says ‘Oh, I’ll be making about the same.’ Actually he was making half and he had to take some of his retirement money out to get through that first year. Had I known that I would have been all over his case. “
But that he said was his son. “He’s the risk taker more than his father. I always played the devil’s advocate, where he would make these moves to the point rather than hear me give a lecture, he’d just do it and I’d find out after the fact.”
But the Baltimore move was something the new Browns coach said he had to do. “I knew it was a clear step back, maybe two or three steps back but I knew it would provide an opportunity to take several forward.”
The gamble paid off with a series of promotions that eventually led him to become the Raven’s linebackers coach under then Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan and when Ryan became head coach of the New York Jets, Pettine was the first coach he hired as defensive coordinator.
While the gamble is one his father never would have taken, he said Thursday night he’s glad his son did. “I tell people I’m very happy he doesn’t have to be compared to the old man anymore,” joked Mike Sr.
“That’s why I was glad he took a different path and not stay in high school ball because there always would have been that comparison,” he said.
The influence of a father on a son when it comes to the shared love of football is something to which Jimmy Haslam can relate as he inherited his love of football from his Dad.
“We laughed about that,” said Haslam. “They all call my dad ‘the senior scout’ and we laughed about now having two senior scouts,” he said of Pettine’s father.
Getting back to the question Haslam asked Pettine on the podium, what did his father say when he called with the news?
“He made it very clear, he goes make sure you’re ready to take a little bit more of my input now that you’re the head coach,” Pettine said. “Being in his early 70s he’s still just as sharp as ever when it comes to the football stuff.”
Pettine gave his father an iPad or as he called it an e-pad so that his father could watch game film and offer advice where he saw fit. “That was a godsend, I mean you’re talking to the last coach in the Philadelphia area to give up 16 millimeter (film), “ he said.
“I have to thank him,” said the father of the son, “because his career has allowed me to maintain my coaching fix,” he said and a connection to a game that has connected this father and son.