Mike Pettine won his 45th game as a head coach for North Penn High School in Towamencin, Pa., in 2001, but after his fifth season in charge of the Knights, he realized that he wanted something more.
Despite averaging nine victories a season, and having an 11-win year in 1999, Pettine wanted to test his skills at a higher level, and made a decision that set him on a course to become the 15th full-time head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Pettine left behind his high-school team and joined the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff as a coaching and video assistant.
In addition to the “menial” jobs he was tasked with, Pettine took a pay cut and had to work his way up the coaching ranks, but according to him, the sacrifices were worth making.
“I wanted to get in a position where I was doing football full-time,” Pettine said during his introductory press conference Thursday. “I just wanted to work hard.
“I loved it. I love all things football. The fact that I was just in the building, that I was able to be close to it, and then, later on at night, where I was able to pick up and do some of the quality-control stuff, I pinched myself every day.”
Because he had been a high-school head coach for seven years, five with North Penn and the previous two with William Tennent High School, Pettine entered the NFL with a point to prove to anyone who questioned his skills.
And that fueled his rise through the coaching ranks, eventually to the point where he became the Ravens’ outside linebackers coach from 2005-2008 before moving on to take over as defensive coordinator, first, of the New York Jets (2009-2012), and then, with the Buffalo Bills (2013).
“I coached, especially early on, with a chip on my shoulder,” Pettine said. “Whether it was real or not, I was thinking that people saw me as just a high-school coach. ‘Here’s a guy that’s trying to make it in the NFL, but he’s just a high-school coach.’
“That might never have been the case at all, but in the back of my mind, I used that. I never had a timetable for this. It was just, ‘Work hard, and when that gets recognized, you get promoted.’ I’ve been fortunate enough to have things fall into the place and the planets lined up and be standing here today.”