Raiders head coach Tony Sparano and Browns head coach Mike Pettine know each other pretty well. They coached together with the New York Jets in 2012 - Sparano as offensive coordinator, Pettine as defensive coordinator - under head coach Rex Ryan. Now two seasons later the two meet as head coaches on opposing sidelines.
"We're both hot-blooded Italians with similar philosophies," Tony Sparano said of Pettine. "Mike's come from a football family. I have kids that are coaching right now. My entire family is a football family. It's really similar situations. Both of us kind of get after it a little bit and coach with a lot of energy and a lot of passion, and aren't afraid to challenge and confront or do those types of things. I think in our game right now, that's necessary. You have to be able to challenge, you have to be able to confront problems and situations when they occur. He's done a good job of that in his situation there. That's what we're trying to do here."
Pettine spoke earlier in the day via conference call and the way he spoke of Sparano, it was as if the two of them were sitting across a lunch table from each other, sharing a pie and some beers. Though, he doesn't quite think he is as flamboyant his pal Tony.
"I think from a philosophy standpoint, I think we're very similar," said Pettine of Sparano. "I think maybe he's a little bit more animated on the sidelines than I am, but I think we're both hot-blooded Italians. I think he, or I have a tendency maybe to hold it in a little bit more than he does, but I definitely enjoyed the time I spent with him. I think a lot of Tony and just kind of his approach to football and the mentality. It's clear to see in the games that he's been in charge that it's definitely his stamp."
The 48-year-old Pettine is in the first year of his first head coaching gig. Sparano is five years Pettine's senior and has been there, done that as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins for over three seasons from 2008 to 2011. He joined Pettine in New York the season after he was let go as Dolphins head coach.
This Pettine football family line to is a pretty successful one. Pettine played for his father Mike Sr who is famous as one of the most successful high school football coaches ever. He coached Central Bucks High School West in Pennsylvania for 33 years which included 4 AAAA state titles and a record of 326-42-4. Mike Jr would later become head coach at rival Pennsylvania High School North Penn for five seasons before moving on to become an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens in 2002.
Pettine learned his philosophy from his father and it's one that he sees in Sparano as well.
"Him being a former offensive line guy and then just me growing up under my dad's tutelage where it all started with the lines, you build your teams that way, you be that way, you can run the ball, you can protect the quarterback, and you couple that with playing good defense then you can be in every game."
With the exception of their stinker last week against the Jaguars, the Browns have looked much better under Pettine than they did last year under then head coach Rob Chudzinski, just as the Dolphins did under Sparano in his first season in Miami.
Even the drafts for each team had a lot of similarities. Both the Raiders and Browns also chose a quarterback, linebacker, and offensive lineman in the first three rounds and both chose two cornerbacks.
Sparano said he was active in the Raiders draft room and the choice of Gabe Jackson in the third round has his stamp all over it. As did the flurry of moves along the offensive line in free agency.
Outside of the mere fact that one is an offensive minded coach, and the other is a defensive minded coach, these two head coaches couldn't be much more alike in their approach to the game of football. Heck, Tony, is literally Mike Pettine's middle name.
It will be interesting to watch the chess match that occurs between these two ‘hot-blooded Italians' who once shared the same sideline, and who share similar philosophies. It adds an interesting storyline where most others probably don't believe there is one.