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He grew up around one of the most storied high-school football programs the area has ever known.
He abandoned a career as a successful high-school coach with no guarantees of success or even long-term employment.
Now, Mike Pettine is a head coach in the National Football League. The Doylestown native is now in charge of the Cleveland Browns after working his way up the ladder in his chosen profession.
After playing for his father Mike at Central Bucks West High, the younger Pettine went on to play college football at the University of Virginia before getting his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Pitt.
He spent five years on his father’s staff at Central Bucks West before taking over the reins at William Tennent, a school not known either then or now for its football prowess. Pettine won 14 games there over two seasons before moving up the road and up in class to North Penn, where he won 45 games in five years.
He likely could have stayed at North Penn forever and built the sort of program his father did at his alma mater but in 2002 Pettine rolled the dice to pursue his NFL dream. He took a job as a coaching and video assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, meaning he spent a lot of time breaking down video for relatively little pay.
For three years he moved up the ranks until 2005 when he was named an outside linebacker coach under defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. When Ryan was named head coach of the New York Jets in 2009 he took Pettine along as his own defensive coordinator. The two worked together in New York for four seasons until Pettine moved to Buffalo for the 2013 campaign.
On the surface, it might appear that the 47-year old Pettine is taking charge of a train wreck. After all, the modern version of the Browns (despite what the NFL may pretend, the original franchise is in Baltimore) have had rough going since they took the field in 1999. They’ve had just two winning seasons and been to the playoffs once, in 2007.
The Browns went 4-12 this past season and ranked 27th in the league in scoring at just 19.2 points per game.
Pettine, who is the franchise’s eighth head coach, will have his hands full.
But he also has an opportunity to pit his own imprint on a franchise that’s badly in need of an image makeover. The Browns have 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft, including two in the first round and five in the first three. Barring a predraft trade they’ll choose fourth overall.
The Browns need a lot of help in a lot of spots. Among Pettine’s first tasks will be finding and then developing a young quarterback. But look for his team to be an aggressive, attacking unit on the defensive side of the ball, a unit molded in their coach’s image.
The Cleveland Browns head into 2014 with a long journey ahead on the road to respectability. But they now have a coach who will keep them moving in the right direction.