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Friday, June 20, 2014
Pettine's playbook brouhaha

By Pat McManamon

Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine created quite a stir when he told SI.Com reporter Greg Bedard that the New York Jets defensive playbook had found its way to the New England Patriots.

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That ruffled feathers in two NFL locales -- in New England, where Bill Belichick was his dismissive self, and in New York, where Jets coach Rex Ryan was none too pleased that he had to address the story.

It's debatable how much value there is in having a playbook. Pettine tried to downplay its importance with Pro Football Talk by saying he'd always study another team's, but it is incomplete without knowing the other team's game plans. Too, in this day and age, every team studies every other team's plays intricately. The Browns probably can predict with a great degree of accuracy what formation they are going to get from the Pittsburgh Steelers on a particular down-and-distance. The problem becomes stopping it.

That's why the Patriots videotaping signals ("SpyGate") in violation of the rules was so much more serious. Knowing a playbook is one thing, stealing signals is another. It's not unlike baseball. A hitter might be aware that a pitcher usually throws a curveball down 2-1 with two out, but the pitcher can change it up with a fastball. But if a team steals a catcher's signals, the hitter has a decided advantage. In the same way an NFL team can understand some things via a playbook, a team can cause confusion by changing what it does. The gameplan is far more important to see than the playbook. What's called and the players executing the call matter far more.

Pettine no doubt did not intend to have this one portion of a larger story blow up the way it did.

But it did, and though he probably talked casually about the playbook caper, the casual nature of the talk made it all that much more impactful in New York and New England.

Rightly or wrongly, Pettine is viewed by some as a guy who worked the system to gain better jobs and eventually become the coach of the Browns. Bedard referenced that fact when he wrote that he is "always leery of people who climb the ladder fast and seem a little too eager in the process." This doesn't mean Pettine can't win, just that the image is out there.

To have that reputation floating and then make public statements that drag the people who helped you get where you are into a mini-brouhaha breaks the code of coaches; you're not supposed to even casually cast aspersions on people who helped you. Pettine might not have meant to do so, but clearly Ryan took it that way, saying he didn't know what Pettine was trying to gain by saying what he did.

Asked about the relationship between the two, Ryan said it's "in a bad spot right now," adding: "Like, 'Really Dude? Seriously?'"

Former Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff was more blunt.

"C'mon Mike," Westhoff told ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "Take care of things in Cleveland. ... You make people angry with off-the-cuff, kind-of-stupid statements."

Westhoff went on to point out that Pettine might not have become a head coach or defensive coordinator without Ryan. And that Ryan brought Pettine to the Ravens when Pettine was a high school coach.

Pettine has talked about "Rex and I" putting together the Jets defense, a claim that some might argue since most credit Ryan. But Pettine also has been honest since joining the Browns when answering questions. Refreshingly so.

In this case his honesty had a ripple effect he no doubt did not anticipate and probably feels is unnecessary (Bedard strongly voiced that view on Boston television as well).

In this time and era, though, almost everything matters. (See: Manziel and swan.) And when a coach says it, it really matters.

Even Rex Ryan knows that lesson.