Mike Pettine hasn’t coached a single game. He hasn’t even coached a single practice with the Cleveland Browns.
He has handled everything that’s been put in front of him with poise, class and even a bit of humor. That won’t help the Browns draft the right guys next month or win a single game when the 2014 season starts, but a guy who clearly wasn’t the team’s first choice, had to deal with the Jim Harbaugh leaks a month after taking the job and saw the team’s general manager and CEO get fired just a couple of weeks after he was hired has been pretty impressive in his public appearances while taking on the task of cleaning up a messy situation.
Last Friday, I was there when Pettine addressed the 83rd annual Ohio State Football Coaches Clinic. What follows is what’s left from my notebook scribbles and observations from Pettine’s speech mixed with some things he’d previously said on the record and the way he’s gone about the first few months of his "dream job" and newfound responsibility.
**Though he’s previously talked about coaching with a chip on his shoulder and being dismissed by some in NFL circles because he was a high school coach 13 years ago, Pettine’s speech wasn’t about how he was once sitting where most of his audience sat, or how special his meteoric rise had been.
**He talked toughness (repeatedly) and the importance of setting high standards in any football program. He didn’t go much into the draft and certainly didn’t touch any specifics, but I thought a couple quotes about his desired traits in players would resonated with Browns fans.
"We want guys who love football as opposed to guys who love what football does for them."
"When it comes to the (NFL Scouting) Combine, there’s a reason people call it The Underwear Olympics."
**He said Ohio and Pennsylvania represent "the heart of football in this country" and said the fact that every Super Bowl ever played has had an alum of the Big 33 game — the longtime summer all-star game that originated in Pennsylvania and for a long time was played under a Pennsylvania vs. Ohio format — is something all involved should be proud of.
Pennsylvania recently took on Maryland to replace Ohio as its Big 33 opponent.
"I don’t know the details there, so I won’t say too much," Pettine said, "but I’d guess that Ohio winning seven of 10 and the last four probably had something to do with that."
**Pettine was 0-5 as a head coach coaching against his father at Central Bucks West.
"You know that saying, ‘Father knows best?’ That got really old, really quick," he told the coaches clinic crowd.
Their 1999 season was documented by ESPN for a reality series called "The Season". The Mike Pettine Jr. seen by viewers nationwide was "a screamer," a young coach who now says he’s changed.
"I’ll still yell when I have to," Pettine said. "I’m much better at picking my spots. Screaming the loudest doesn’t make you any smarter.
"From 500-some hours of video, (the producers of The Season) picked the clips that made me look like some raving, screaming maniac…like I was the coach out of Varsity Blues."
That drew laughs.
"I know I can be an (expletive)," Pettine said. "But not that big of one."
**Work smarter, not necessarily harder or longer, is also part of Pettine’s message to his assistants.
He said he was the young coach who’d put in long hours and stretch them even longer, making it a macho or ego thing, wearing two hours of sleep "like a badge of honor."
Then the next week would come, he’d evaluate a game and the way he coached it, and in that evaluation he’d come to realize he might have been better off with a good night’s sleep "especially at the end of a week."
That, too, is something he’s passed along to both his assistant coaches and players with the Browns. He said he’ll have Browns players wearing computerized wristbands to allow the team to track sleep patterns and make sure players are getting a proper amount of rest. He didn’t elaborate on how that might work or be tracked.
He said too many coaches waste too many hours during their long days and weeks and that he doesn’t want a coach who "comes in at 5:30 a.m., has his first workout, has breakfast, has coffee, flirts with the secretary…then by the time he has his second and third workout later in the day, the guy who came in at 7:30 and just worked has put in (almost two full days)."
A self-proclaimed "grinder," Pettine keeps a list of his tasks and priorities and checks them off as he goes.
"I’m a checklist guy," he said, adding that he got that from his time as a graduate assistant under Johnny Majors at Pitt in the 90s.
**He asked coaches to understand that different players respond to different motivational tactics, that even at the game’s highest level some need to be coached more closely — or with more yelling — than others. He said getting players to know you care is key, and that injecting humor into weekly meetings can help reinforce not only the message being relayed but the relationship between coaches and players.
After telling a couple stories about different ways he kept his Buffalo Bills players on their toes last year, he showed that keeping it light in the meeting can be a two-way street by putting up a slide of himself standing in his front yard — in 1983. There was a skinny Mike Pettine with a full head of hair, wearing an MTV t-shirt and corduroy shorts that didn’t come within four inches of his knee.
When a reporter approached the big screen adjacent to the coaches clinic stage and tried to snap a photo, Pettine gave him a firm "stop" command. He stopped. Then Pettine talked about how he didn’t need that photo "hitting Twitter."
Welcome to the big leagues, Coach.
**Pettine left a comfortable job teaching and coaching in high school to accept a low-level video job with the Baltimore Ravens in 2002, cutting his salary and taking a big risk which led to a low-level coaching job with the Ravens. More promotions followed.
As Pettine’s status in the football world changed, so did his family status.
"I have three wonderful children and unfortunately I live apart from them," Pettine told the coaches clinic crowd.
He then said there are two kinds of coaches wives.
"There are great ones and then there are ex-ones," Pettine said. "Mine is an ex."
**He jokingly apologized to the coaches "if you’ve seen any of the billboards" placed along various highways by the Browns that feature Pettine’s image and a quote from his introductory press conference, "We will be the toughest team on the field." There’s one not far from Ohio State’s campus.
"I told them not to make me the face of the franchise," he said of the billboards, which went up shortly after his late January hiring.
Winning the Columbus market is and should be important to the Browns. All the major Columbus TV stations were on hand for Pettine’s speech, but he didn’t speak to the media after. Especially given how engaging his presentation was and that it was his first known appearance in Columbus, that was a swing and a miss.
**Pettine made it sound like his practices will be more like Eric Mangini’s practices were in 2009-10 than Browns practices were under the last two coaches.
"I’m a firm believer that you make practice harder than a game," he said.
He later said: "If anything, we are going to overpractice situations that win or lose you a game — third down, red zone, two-minute."
He said his goal is to make almost everything a competitive situation in practice to establish a winning mentality. He said "it might be (for the right to be) first in line in the cafeteria, maybe to wear a special black practice jersey, maybe just who gets to pick the music in the locker room. Guys don’t care what the reward is. They want to beat the other guys."
Like almost everything a still unbeaten coach can say, it sounds good. We’ll see how it all turns out.