Growing up the son of a Pennsylvania coaching legend, Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine picked up a lot from his namesake. In order to be successful, you had to prepare well, pay attention to detail and leave no stone unturned. But Mike Sr.'s best piece of advice emphasized the importance of custom fitting.
"Each opponent you need to look at and he always likened it to a tailor making a custom suit," he told Randy Lange and me this week on newyorkjets.com radio. "Instead of going in and buying one off the rack, you're going to build that gameplan completely specific to that opponent and that's something that he was a master at over the years and I think that's something that rubbed off."
The elder Pettine coached Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, Pa., for 33 years, compiling a 326-42-4 record and retiring as the winningest coach in the history of Pennsylvania high school football. Mike Jr. played for his dad, served as an assistant coach on his staff, coached against him (he never beat Pops) and even had his dad serve as his assistant for a season.
When Mike Pettine joined the Baltimore Ravens staff, he and Rex Ryan, who was the Ravens' D-line coach at the time, immediately hit it off.
"The connection there was instant and I think a big part of it was the way we were raised. His philosophy on the way to play defense was very similar to mine. I think we're a good combination because Rex is brilliant and I think I brought, from a football standpoint, the ability to take everything he laid out there and quantify it, organize it and get it on paper," said Pettine, who started as a defensive quality control coach with the Ravens.
"That was a big part of my job early on, the computer and getting everything ruled out and drawn. That's where we were such a good team. He provided the scheme and I had the ability to rein it all in and get it organized."
When Ryan was named head coach of the Jets, Pettine was the first man he added to his staff and the new skipper referred to him as his "right hand man" and "a rising coaching star." Both men rose together professionally, running what Pettine says is a base defense consisting of 3-4 personnel but not out of a 3-4 alignment.
So for the fourth consecutive season, you'll be able to call the Jets a 3-4 defense. But this system is something far different than any Jets Nation has seen before. Pettine estimates the Jets will run a 3-4 alignment 10 to 15 percent of the time but it will vary because the weakside linebacker (or rush linebacker), who was played by Terrell Suggs in Baltimore and will be manned by Vernon Gholston and Bryan Thomas with the Green & White, will move to the line, put his hand down and transform the front into a 4-3.
Just as it was in Baltimore, you're going to be able to find Pettine and Ryan locked up in Ryan's office in Florham Park on Monday and Tuesday devising gameplans throughout the year. And keeping their acronym of KILL — Keep It Likable and Learnable — they'll also make sure to get the players' input.
"We'd always over-install early in the week and find out what we liked and what the players liked, and to me it was always very player-friendly." Pettine said. "It could be a great call in our minds but if the players don't like it, there's no sense calling it if they're not confident in the call.
"So almost every week Rex would tell the players on defense to take four calls, let him know what they are, and then he'd take them out of the plan. And there were a lot of weeks they'd come back and say, 'No, it's great,' and there were some weeks they'd say, 'Hey, we don't like this.'
"But Rex had a standing rule that you weren't allowed to take any of the Cover-Zero blitzes out. You're not allowed to take those out because we always joked that Buddy would take him out of the will."
Even though Ryan is now a head coach, he'll remain the defensive playcaller on the field and Pettine will be his eyes in the sky from pressbox level. With talented OLB Calvin Pace suspended for the first four regular-season games for violating the NFL's Performance Enhancing Drugs policy, Jets fans will focus on Gholston.
"We can sometimes get to our calls with an extra defensive lineman or an extra safety if we're not pleased with how things are going, but I'm very confident in Bryan and Vernon. Vernon especially, I think is having a good camp," Pettine said. "While he doesn't look it on the exterior, he is taking this very seriously, he's very passionate, and he's asking the right questions in the meetings. All he's doing is going out and getting better every day."
The middle of this Jets defense is particularly strong with DT Kris Jenkins and a dynamite pair of inside linebackers in Bart Scott and David Harris. And Pettine, who concurs with Ryan that CB Darrelle Revis is the NFL's most complete cornerback, says the Green & White have the deepest secondary he's ever coached.
"Lito [Sheppard]'s going to have his hands full. He's going to be on the hot corner because I think there are going to be a lot of teams who look where Revis is and throw the other way," the coordinator said.
"That's where it's nice to have that depth where we can rotate in a guy like [Dwight] Lowery and [Donald] Strickland and should be able to do some things like roll coverage away from Revis and maybe force teams to throw back at him, similar to what the Cowboys did with Deion [Sanders] for a lot of those years. So we can protect those guys as well and we'll have a lot of different things that will be gameplan-specific that will help out that other corner."
Pettine is headed to the tailor soon and he'll be searching for some sharp custom suits. Those threads on the rack are for somebody else.
Tonight's Hofstra Practice
The Jets' Family Night Practice at Hofstra University's James M. Shuart Stadium is on for this evening rain or shine — unless the Hempstead, N.Y., area gets lightning. For the latest information, you can go to newyorkjets.com or you can call the Jets Fan Line at 973-549-4844.