Long before there was Mike Pettine Jr., the new head football coach of the Cleveland Browns, there was Mike Pettine, the 12-year-old basketball player growing up in idyllic Doylestown, PA.
That’s where our paths crossed for the first time.
Pickup basketball in the gymnasium of Central Bucks West High School, Pettine and his dad of the same name vs. me and a fellow sports writer for the Doylestown (PA.) Intelligencer. I hit four shots from my favorite spot at the top of the key, a spot where “young Mike” (that’s how we knew him at the time. Not by Mike, which is what we called his dad) thought was a place too far.
Dad stopped the game. “Guard him,” Pettine yelled, gritting his teeth.
Too late, the pair of young sports writers won, 11-9, but it was that day I knew that Pettine would inherit the competitive spirit of his dad and make it big someday. Thursday was that day when Pettine was named the head coach of the Browns.
Being a sports writer for as long as I have, you get to know a lot of head football coaches. The two best coaches I’ve ever met were Wayne Hardin and Mike Pettine Sr., hands down and by far, and I’ve covered and known great coaches like Bruce Arians, Andy Reid, Al Golden, Joe Paterno and Dick Vermeil.
It’s not even close. Hardin is in the College Football Hall of Fame, the only head coach to have both Navy and Temple nationally ranked and he did that purely on gameday X’s and O’s.
Pettine Sr. had the same strategic acumen, but he also drilled and drilled his teams until they got it right. Central Bucks West, who won three straight large school Pennsylvania state titles and had winning streaks of 45 and 54 games under Pettine Sr., never went offsides, never had a false start or a blocked punt or a blocked field goal. Or at least I honestly don’t remember any. I really don’t. In those days, Central Bucks West football was as close to perfection as humanly possible.
“We had drills where we’d go the length of the field where we had to go the length of the field without making a mistake,” former Central Bucks West player Len Ventresca said. “One missed snap count, one wrong turn, and we’d have to go back to the other end of the field and start over again. We hated it, but it paid off. We never jumped offsides. We never beat ourselves with stupid mistakes.”
Now that Pettine Jr. is in charge of his own program again, I expect the Browns to win a lot of games, because they will do all of the little things right. That, and their new coach learned competitiveness at a very young age from the best teacher anyone could have had.
Mike Gibson, a two-time APSE award-winner for Best Sports Story and Best Sports Feature, is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @papreps , “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.