CLEVELAND -– Tony Sparano and Mike Pettine know each other well.
They spent the 2012 season coordinating the New York Jets, with Sparano leading the attack and Pettine running a stout defense.
The pair have far more in common than a line on the resume. Coaching philosophies often match, which should make for an interesting matchup Sunday when Sparano’s Raiders meet Pettine’s Cleveland Browns.
There’s an ethnic tie and some shared personality traits as well.
“I think we’re both hot-blooded Italians,” Pettine said. “I think I have a tendency maybe to hold (emotion) 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 his approach to football and the tough mentality he brings to the game. It’s clear to see in the games where he’s been in charge. That’s definitely his stamp.”
Both head coaches prefer to grind possessions out with a strong ground game, play tough defense and assignment-sound special teams. In short, both prefer functional over fancy, efficient over explosive.
“With Tony as an offensive line guy and then just me growing up under my dad’s tutelage where it all started with the lines,” Pettine said. “You build your teams that way. If you can run the ball, protect the quarterback and couple that with good defense, then you can be in every game.”
Sound familiar? Sparano espoused that philosophy when he was promoted to interim head coach. The Raiders have done well following those rules. They’ve been competitive in the two games since Sparano took over, but they haven’t been able to secure a win.
The Raiders are dead last in rushing offense and 31st run defense, which must drive Sparano crazy. Pettine’s run defense is even worse, which has proven irksome.
If both coaches are in need similar, then the players have certainly heard about those disappointments.
“It’s really similar situations,” Sparano said. Both of us get after it a little bit and coach with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. We 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.”
The Browns are 3-3 despite last week’s disappointing loss to Jacksonville, signs that the Browns are a team heading slowly in the right direction under their freshman head coach.
“Mike has always done a really good job,” Sparano said. “I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s doing down there with that football team. When we were together at the Jets, it was clear that he’s a really smart guy that gets the most out of his players. They play hard. That’s what Cleveland is doing now. They’re playing hard.”