(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series on New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and his former defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, who now holds that position with the Bills. The two square off this afternoon at Met Life Stadium.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —If you thought Mike Pettine’s split from Rex Ryan was acrimonious, you’d be wrong.
Pettine was hired as defensive coordinator for the Jets when Ryan took over as head coach in 2009.
These days, though, he’s in his first season at that same position ... but with the Buffalo Bills.
To some, it was a parallel move, but for others it appeared to be a step down.
Not so, Ryan said.
“WE’RE BASICALLY like brothers,” he said of Pettine. “We spent a lot of time together in football, but outside of football as well. We used to vacation together ... we’re obviously, very close.”
So why did Pettine leave?
“With Mike, he’s a young guy that I think will be an excellent head coach in the near future,” Ryan maintained. “For him, I think there’s part of that that’s built in with, ‘Well, (he did it with) Rex Ryan’s defense’ or whatever.
“He was never going to get his due credit until he went out. (That) happened even with Marvin Lewis even. When Marvin went to Washington (as defensive coordinator from the same position with the Ravens) it was because of Ray Lewis’ defense (in Baltimore).”
He added, “Those things happen, but Mike Pettine can stand on his own. He’s a tremendous football coach and it won't be long when he’ll get his own opportunity to be a head coach.”
And when he does, he’ll likely rely on what he learned from Ryan.
THE TWO friends square off today at Met Life Stadium in a battle of 1-1 rivals from the AFC East.
“It looks like somebody borrowed our playbook,” Ryan said of watching film on Buffalo. “But you know what, that’s my defense, that’s his defense and certainly we were together for a long time. Mike’s somebody that I’m extremely proud of.”
And it’s been that way since Ryan was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator.
“I knew it, there was no doubt,” he said of Pettine’s skills. “It was funny, you talk about coming in from the ground floor with no expectations ... (he) just thought that people would see his abilities.
“Well, I clearly saw his abilities and the more I talked to him, the more I realized that. His background is very similar to mine ... his dad’s a (high school) coaching legend.”
Still, Pettine began his career at the bottom.
“Everybody starts, there ... people start as (graduate assistants), they come from wherever,” Ryan said. “But Mike went out and earned it. I coached eight years of small college football before I ever got up to (the NFL) level, so there's different routes of getting there.
“I hope my it doesn’t take my son that long to get up there. But I’m counting on the fact that Mike will get a job (and) hire my son one day as a quality control coach. And if he does as good a job as Mike Pettine did at that capacity, maybe he'll be getting the same opportunities that Pettine’s getting.”
But Pettine, who coached on the high school level for 14 years, earned his chance.
“It was clear that this guy really knew football, and we weren’t utilizing his talents,” Ryan, then the defensive coordinator, recalled of Pettine’s early days with the Ravens as a video assistant. “So when I had the opportunity — we had a quality control job open — there’s only one guy that I wanted, and that was him.
“From then on, he did a tremendous job. He was my right-hand man ... we were together for years. And he kept on getting better and better and better. Clearly, it won’t be long when this guy will be a head coach in the near future.”
Of course, it was the Bills’ first-year head coach, Doug Marrone, who gave Pettine, who turns 47 on Wednesday, the opportunity to make his own mark.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)