Mike Pettine looks the part of a coach striving to build a tough, accountable team
The face looks as if it has been chiseled from a chunk of granite.
There’s that prominent chin, framed by a goatee. There’s that thick jaw, sitting below those deep-set eyes. And there’s that shiny bald head.
You could easily envision Mike Pettine stomping his way into the ring for a WWE match, his menacing persona sending the crowd into a frenzy. He already has the appropriate nickname: “Blunt Force Trauma.”
But when that was attached to Pettine long ago, it wasn’t for his ability to make an opponent in the ring see stars (although one could picture him making that happen). It was a reference to his approach to the professional sport in which he actually works: coaching football.
When Pettine speaks, he is all business, delivering a message that is concise and to the point. He learned the bulk of what he knows about the NFL from Rex Ryan, with whom he worked for many years with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
But you won’t ever mistake him for the Jets' bombastic coach, who thrives on being the center of attention.
“For any of you that are expecting me to be like him personality-wise, you’ll be mistaken,” Pettine said. “We were pretty much opposites of each other. I’m not going to be predicting Super Bowls or meeting presidents or wins and losses. I won’t be writing on anybody’s Winnebago about ‘Super Bowl or bust.’ But I think he and I, for many years, were the perfect complement for each other. I kept him on the straight and narrow with a lot of things, kept him organized, and he helped me open my mind to a lot of the creative aspects of defensive football.”
After the Browns’ 4-12 finish last season, there were some clear questions, raised by Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner, about whether the players truly understood what it meant to be accountable. And that, in large measure, is what led them to introduce Pettine as the 15th head coach in franchise history on Thursday.
Whether Pettine will, in fact, be the transformative figure that Haslam and Banner are expecting him to be and the rest of us are hoping him to be remains to be seen.
But he does seem to have a solid grasp on the essence of what it takes to guide an NFL club, even though he has never done it. Until Thursday, Pettine had only been an assistant coach in the league, most recently the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.
However, he did spend seven seasons as an assistant for the Baltimore Ravens, an experience that taught him about the brand of football played in the division in which the Browns reside.
“To compete in the AFC North, you have to be willing to bloody your nose a little bit,” Pettine said during a news conference. “And I think that’s the mentality that we’re going to take here, that this team is going to be built on toughness.
“Most people think of toughness in just the physical sense. I think, as important or more important, is the mental toughness, is the ability to think through things when they aren’t going well, how to hang tough when things go bad, that the heads don’t drop and it’s the ‘same, old Browns,’ and teams talk themselves into losing. That, to me, is the culture that needs to be changed here.
“We’re going to build a team that’s not just physically tough, but, obviously, mentally (tough).”
Tough enough to withstand a coach who will always be pushing his players to be excellent.
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