PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Thirteen years since they first came together inside the halls of the Baltimore Ravens facility, Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan reunited Monday in a setting Ryan envisioned when he first met the Browns head coach.
In 2002, Pettine left his high school coaching job in Pennsylvania to join the Ravens coaching staff as the "third video guy," as described in the book "Collision Low Crossers." Ryan, then Baltimore's defensive line coach, saw special potential in Pettine, who was eventually promoted to assistant defensive line coach in 2004 and linebackers coach in 2005, the year Ryan became defensive coordinator. They worked side by side in Baltimore and New York until 2013, when Pettine left to become Buffalo's defensive coordinator the year before Ryan was fired by the Jets.
One year later, Pettine was head coach of the Browns. Monday's joint practice at St. John Fisher College between the Browns and Ryan's new team, Buffalo, served as the first official on-field reunion between the good friends who have remained just as close.
"You know, I knew he'd get to this spot, there's no question," Ryan said after Monday's joint practice. "Our backgrounds are very similar, both our dads are legendary coaches. He's smart, knew the game extremely well, hardworking and dedicated and passionate. So I knew he'd get this opportunity. I was hoping he hires my son one day."
Joint practices are becoming more and more popular in the NFL. Pre-existing relationships aren't required to make them happen.
It just happened to be the driving force behind Cleveland's and Buffalo's.
Buffalo defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman started as a defensive assistant with Baltimore the same year Pettine joined the staff, and they coached alongside each other through 2012. Buffalo defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson joined Pettine's staff in 2013 and the two worked together for a couple of seasons in Baltimore. Bills running backs coach Anthony Lynn was with the Jets during Pettine's four-year tenure with the team.
The list goes on, and it includes Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who was an offensive line assistant with the Ravens in 2006-07.
"I think the key though is to make sure that you're with like-minded coaches. I think that is what makes this successful," Ryan said. "Obviously, we want to have the best team we can and we want to be…and we build our teams the same way, but we want to get better. I think that was the overriding theme with these practices."
Pettine smiled Saturday when he was asked about the state of his relationship with Ryan. Memories of their in-game interactions spilled out as he explained how their back-and-forth would sometimes unfold.
"Now, if you've ever been on the headset with us you'd think that we'll never speak to each other ever again," Pettine said. "I've worked with him for a long time. A lot of great memories ... He'll be a friend until I take my last breath."