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Pettine Family In the Star Ledger


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While out visting my uncle in Jersey this past Sunday came across a great article in the Star Ledger on Mike Pettine Jnr's upbringing in a football family, butting heads with his dad, and his journey back to football, great stuff.

here is the link . . .


Here is the story . . .

NY Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine Jr. took unusual path to NFL after learning game from father

by M.A. Mehta/The Star-Ledger

Saturday August 15, 2009, 11:00 PM

Courtesy of the Pettine family

Mike Pettine Jr., center, and father Mike Pettine Sr. coached together at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, Pa.

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DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -- Just off North West Street, in the empty parking lot at Doyle Elementary School, the star quarterback was getting an earful from his old man again.

They were jawing in the car, two hot-blooded Italians sharing the same name, exiled by the woman of the house for arguing at the dinner table every night.

"You guys want to do your own cooking? Wash your own clothes?" Joyce Pettine told them. "Then keep it up."

So Mike Pettine Sr. called an audible, pulled over to a safe spot after football practices, turned off the ignition, and picked apart his 16-year-old son's miscues before heading home.

It was 1983, when baseball was still America's passion. But Pettine, a coaching legend at Central Bucks West High School in Philadelphia's northern suburbs, always had football in his heart. He was a throwback, a former college halfback who taught his son that a tireless work ethic was a straight line to success.

But he made mistakes along the way.

"I was pretty hard on him," Pettine Sr. said. "With most parents that coach their kids, unfortunately, they release their frustrations on them if things don't go well. Your kid ends up being the whipping boy. I always tell people that if I gave him one thing, it's a thick skin."

A generation later, Mike Pettine Jr. is one of the masterminds behind Rex Ryan's blitz-happy defense that is expected to anchor the Jets this season. The 42-year-old defensive coordinator's improbable path from high school to the sport's biggest stage is sprinkled with happenstance and life-changing risks.

"I think he's ready," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's his time."

But Pettine's road to the NFL nearly never materialized. After playing free safety at the University of Virginia, he escaped from the game that was a part of his life since he was 7. The fire was gone.

But unforeseen world events would soon change everything.


The young manufacturing supervisor of Grady-White Boats was having a blast, breathing in the North Carolina air, without a care in the world.

Football was in Pettine's rearview mirror.

"I was kind of sick of it," said Pettine, who sold insurance and helped his father as an assistant for C.B. West High before heading to Greenville.

Courtesy of The Pettine Family

Mike Pettine Jr. played for his father at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, Pa., before graduating in 1984.

Pettine was in charge of workers in the hull department handling fiberglass, spraying resin and rolling it into a mold. He was happy, his mind free of football.

His plan was fluid. Maybe he'd get an MBA. Maybe he'd stay down there forever. He wasn't sure.

In the winter of 1991, Pettine's future became tenuous. The fallout of the Gulf War reduced the company's production. When the U.S. led Allied Forces into an air and ground assault to remove Iraq from Kuwait, Grady-White Boats went from building a dozen or so boats per day to a handful.

When Pettine was asked to take a significant pay cut, he headed back to the Northeast, where he rekindled an old flame.

"Something was wrong," Pettine said. "I was going through football withdrawal symptoms. If the Gulf War doesn't hit, I don't know if I ever get into coaching."

He spent two years as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh before landing his first full-time head coaching gig at William Tennent High School in Warminster, Pa.

Two years later, Pettine made the jump to a sleeping giant, where he'd come face-to-face with the man who taught him everything he knew about the game.


Clay Kuklick's head was spinning.

Every week, the North Penn High School quarterback was given a new stack of information by his coach, who had pored over countless hours of film to gain the slightest advantage over opponents.

When Mike Pettine Jr. took over at the historically underachieving Class 4A school in nearby Lansdale, Pa., in 1997, he remembered the advice his father had given him long ago: Leave no stone unturned.

So, the young coach holed up in his basement every night, studying tendencies and adding wrinkles to the gameplan.

"Sometimes, you almost felt overwhelmed by his knowledge," Kuklick said. "But you had to understand that he was trying to make you better and transfer his knowledge of the game to you."

Before long, North Penn's offensive playbook swelled to more than 100 formations. Pettine gave quarterbacks three or four reads on a new play and figured out a sure-fire way to beat a Cover-3 defense. His mind was racing, but the additional workload was difficult for players to absorb.

"Mike was always trying to be more innovative," said current North Penn head coach Dick Beck, who was Pettine's assistant at the time. "He was always trying to put his signature on everything he did."

So, he'd have 10 new plays ready for each opponent. Beck sensed Pettine's frustration when he couldn't implement all of his new ideas.

But by 1999, North Penn became a serious challenger to C.B. West's throne. Pettine's father, the most prolific coach in Pennsylvania high school football history with 326 wins in 33 years, had won two consecutive state titles.

"He would have rather won the C.B. West game and lost all the others," Beck said of Mike Jr. "Even though he would tell everybody the opposite. He had a desire to win that game."

But he never did. The father defeated his son twice in 1999 (and all five times through the years) en route to a third consecutive undefeated season.

"He always liked the challenge more than I did," Mike Sr. said. "I would have preferred it never happened."

Stepping out of his father's shadow became a near impossible task. The headlines after every loss were predictable: Father Knows Best.

"He was always compared to what his father did," Beck said. "He took it as a compliment, but I know he also wanted to be thought of as his own man."

Mike Pettine Jr. had resurrected North Penn's program with 45 wins in five seasons. In many ways, he had reached his ceiling.

"He didn't belong in high school," Kuklick said. "We knew he wasn't going to be there too long before moving to a higher level. It was only a matter of time."

After the 2001 season, Matt Cavanaugh's cell phone rang.


The audio-visual coordinator shook his wrist to make sure his watch was still working.

He fixed bum overhead projectors, corrected printer problems, coordinated equipment sign outs and lugged televisions and VCR combos through the North Penn halls, counting down the hours until the start of football practice.

"I was the A/V geek," Pettine said. "I just hated it. I couldn't wait until the end of the day to coach."

Pettine loved his part-time job more than his full-time one. He wanted to escape to a place that would allow him to focus on football around-the-clock.

So Pettine called Cavanaugh, an old coaching buddy from Pittsburgh who had worked his way up to offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, looking for an entry-level job.

Cavanaugh, now the Jets' quarterbacks coach, asked around. There weren't any coaching positions available, but the Ravens' information technology department was looking for a third video coordinator to film special teams practices and tackle a massive project of converting about 5,000 MAC playbook drawings into PC files.

Cavanaugh knew Pettine was technologically savvy.

"I thought he was almost overqualified," Cavanaugh said.

Pettine asked Cavanaugh to send him a few files to convert, assuring his friend he could do the job without a problem.

He was lying.

So, Pettine grabbed Ken McLarnon and made a bee-line for the North Penn computer lab.

"Believe me, I didn't want to help him," McLarnon said with a laugh. "It was a shame he left our school. He was a football genius."

McLarnon, a teacher in the school's business administration and technology department, gave Pettine a crash course on file conversions. A quick study, Pettine absorbed it all, downloaded a free trial of the requisite software at home and shipped off his work to Cavanaugh.

Although Cavanaugh "had a sense that it would lead to a lot more than just being somebody who worked in the video department," the Ravens offered Pettine the job with no promises it would ever lead to a coaching position. The job paid $30,000, about half of what he was making at the high school.

Pettine was 34 with a wife and three young children. He knew that he couldn't afford to take the job. Financially, it made no sense.

So Pettine cashed out his 401(k) retirement fund to supplement his salary, packed his bags and moved his family to Baltimore.

"It was a big risk," Pettine said. "But when you talk about life ambitions and lifelong dreams, that was it for me. I had to do it. I had a passion."

It didn't take long for a little-known defensive line assistant, who was slowly stepping out of his own father's shadows, to take notice.


When Dick Beck picked up the phone, the voice on the other end was downright giddy.

"I'm hitching my wagon to Rex Ryan," Pettine told his friend three weeks after arriving in Baltimore. "This guy is going to be a star."

When Pettine was finished filming special teams practices, charting field goals or converting files to make them PC friendly, he was poking his head into the Ravens coaches' offices, asking if he could help out.

He forged a friendship with Ryan, a defensive line coach on the rise, aiding the son of former NFL head coach and defensive guru Buddy Ryan any way he could.

When Rex Ryan was looking to spice up a presentation to grab his players' attention, he turned to Pettine for his computer expertise.

"I knew he had a lot of talent," Ryan said. "He was smart and dedicated. When I really spent time with him and got to know him, I began to see those traits."

Pettine spent two years filming practices before becoming a quality control coach for then-defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. He became the assistant defensive line coach for Ryan in 2003 before getting promoted to outside linebackers coach in 2005.

"He soaked up everything that Rex put out to him like a sponge," said Bart Scott, who played for the Ravens from 2002 to 2008 and lovingly refers to Pettine as "Matt Hasselbeck'' for his resemblance to the follically challenged Seahawks quarterback.

"He's one of the smartest guys I've ever met in football," Jets safety Jim Leonhard said. "There's a reason he is where he is right now. If you have a question, he'll definitely have the answer."

William Perlman/The Star-Ledger

The Jets' Marques Douglas (93), along with teammate Sione Pouha (91). watch as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine looks at his defense at training camp.

When Ryan landed the Jets job, he didn't hesitate to bring his "right-hand man" with him. Although Ryan will be the primary defensive play caller from the sidelines, Pettine is much more than a trusty sidekick, constantly devising innovative pressure packages and disguises to stay one step ahead of offenses.

The lofty expectations that Pettine and Ryan can replicate their success in Baltimore -- the two orchestrated a Ravens defense that was the second-stingiest in the NFL, giving up only 261.1 yards per game last year -- don't faze either guy.

"People ask me about the pressure," Pettine said. "We laugh, because if we're somewhere where the pressure to win is more than the pressure we put on ourselves, then we'll worry about it. He and I don't want to give up a yard. We don't want to give up a point. For us, there's nothing more that's acceptable."


Mike Pettine Sr. cringes at all the bulletin-board material Ryan has provided this offseason.

"That's just the way my dad is," Mike Pettine Jr. said with a laugh. "He's straight old school."

The social studies teacher and coach once crossed the picket line during a bitter teachers' strike simply because he didn't want to rob the seniors on his team of a chance to earn a college scholarship. He protected Mike Jr. when disgruntled parents circulated a petition claiming nepotism after the team got off to a slow start.

He passed up opportunities to move to the college coaching ranks but lives without a trace of regret. The safe path was the right one for him.

His boy is the risk taker in the family.

The retired coach is the resident family handyman these days, fixing anything his three kids need.

When he's not busy with his golf league or playing with his grandchildren, he reviews some of the NFL film the Jets' newest defensive coordinator drops off from time to time.

He knows he could have been softer but realizes the tough love strengthened his boy's resolve and prepared him for the biggest challenge of his career.

"I wouldn't trade those moments for anything," Mike Pettine Jr. said.

Last week, Mike Pettine Sr. made the four-hour trip from Doylestown to Cortland, N.Y.

When Jets practice wrapped up, a line of fans stood behind a brick barricade, calling out their favorite players' names, hoping for a photo, handshake or autograph.

They didn't notice the two men right in front of them, the legend and his only son, walking side-by-side, laughing together.

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