Chuck Driesbach, Jim O'Neil and Mike Pettine Jr. owe a lot to Mike Pettine Sr.
Mike Pettine, Sr. might be retired from coaching on the sidelines, but that doesn’t mean he’s done giving football suggestions.
Last week, the father of the Browns’ head coach mailed a 40-page document for his son to give to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
“When I was a coach, I wanted ideas,” Pettine Sr. said recently via the phone. “You never know where it’s going to come from, and a light bulb will go off.”
Pettine, Sr. is a guy you want throwing suggestions your way.
When asked about the biggest piece of advice he would give the coaching staff in Cleveland, Pettine, Sr. gave a rather rousing six-minute sermon with some of his favorite philosophies, capping it off with, “Sorry to go on that tangent, but football is about a lot of little things.”
A legendary coach at Central Bucks High School West just outside of Philadelphia, Pettine Sr. amassed a stunning 327-42 record from 1967-99. Multiple ESPN documentaries were filmed on his successes. Coach Pettine’s football teams were revered in Pennsylvania and recognized around the United States.
And believe it or not, Pettine, Sr. should be regarded as the godfather of the current Browns coaching staff.
Not only did Pettine, Jr. play for his father in high school, but so did defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, as well as linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach, who suited up for Pettine Sr. in the early 1970’s. It’s a rare bond that has impacted all three coaches.
“I was in a bad place,” said Driesbach of his underclassmen years in high school. “I didn’t have good grades. I never would have gone on to college. But he got me a scholarship to Fork Union military academy. Not only did he win games, he improved us as men. I wouldn’t be sitting in the NFL without him.”
“He set extremely high standards and was very demanding,” said Jim O’Neil. “The reason the program had so much success is they maximized everyone’s athletic ability. You were going to be close to your ceiling when you graduated from Central Bucks West. He taught me accountability, how to tell the truth to players and being cutting-edge on putting together schemes.”
“Dad taught me to not worry about the things you don’t have control over,” said Pettine Jr. “You have to be able to prioritize as a head coach. If you start doing something here, and all of a sudden ‘I got to do this, and I got to do that.’ Just get one thing done at a time.”
“Money can’t buy this type of satisfaction,” said a beaming Pettine, Sr. about his three NFL coaches.
THREE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS
Each of the Browns’ coaches personalities and teaching styles can be boiled down to the type of player they were in high school, Pettine, Sr. says.
Driesbach was an intense competitor who earned notoriety for some of the street fights he got himself into in the early 1970’s. He carried that brawling style over to the football field as offensive and defensive end. During a big game his senior year, Driesbach was returning from an injury and was supposed to be out of the game. He convinced coach Pettine Sr. that he at least wanted to dress for the game. Driesbach’s replacement at defensive end hurt himself, and while coach Pettine was scrambling around looking for a replacement, Driesbach already had run out on the field, “limp and all,” Pettine, Sr. recalled with a laugh.
O’Neil has always been the baby-faced, young puppy, according to Pettine, Sr. Playing for Central Bucks West in the late 1990’s, O’Neil was the kind of guy coaches dreamt about cloning in a laboratory. On-and-off the field, he was a spongy student of the game who often told his teammates what their assignments were. O’Neil was an excellent leader and exemplified toughness. The current Browns defensive coordinator battled a nasty shoulder dislocation his entire senior season; an injury which he played every game through. Pettine, Sr. jokingly said O’Neil “did have some delusions of wanting to be a skill player,” but he was more suited as an interior lineman.
Pettine, Sr. even introduced his son to O’Neil, while the latter was an up and coming defensive coordinator at Towson University in Maryland. O’Neil eventually talked his way into shadowing Pettine, Jr. while he was an outside linebackers coach with the Baltimore Ravens. Pettine, Jr. told O’Neil if he ever got a coordinator position, he would be bringing O’Neil on board with him, and did so with the New York Jets in 2009.
As for Pettine, Jr. as a high school player, his father’s tone changed.
“I was overly tough on him,” Pettine, Sr. said after a long pause.
He went on to describe his son as a gifted, naturally talented athlete. Pettine, Jr. still holds the interception record as a defensive back. Pettine, Jr. also starred at quarterback and committed to the University of Virginia to play the position. The Central Bucks West team Pettine, Jr.’s year finished with a 9-2 record; both losses were by one point each.
'NAME OF THE GAME IS WINNING'
Pettine, Sr.’s days are currently spent relaxing in Florida. His best golfing buddy hails from the Cleveland area and is a lifelong Browns supporter. The two chitchat about the excitement surrounding the team with a stable of veteran free agent acquisitions and a bevy of draft picks.
Pettine, Sr. plans on visiting the Berea facility sometime in May. He reiterates how proud he is of his son but his businesslike coach tone buzzes loudly over the phone. He knows the challenge his son faces in turning the Browns into contenders.
“We all are enjoying the honeymoon period,” Pettine, Sr. said. “But once September rolls around, the name of the game is winning.”