John Harbaugh and Mike Pettine have a connection that goes well beyond standing across from each other on the sidelines as the head coaches of the Ravens and Browns.
Pettine got his NFL coaching start in Baltimore, and he worked as an assistant coach during Harbaugh's first season with the Ravens. Their daughters, Alison and Katie, compete against each other on the lacrosse field and Pettine's family still lives in the Baltimore area.
"Mike is a friend," Harbaugh said. "Great relationships there, great memories there."
Pettine has worked his way up the coaching ranks during his 27 years in the profession. His coaching career started in 1988 as an assistant coach under his father at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, PA, and he eventually earned a spot in the Ravens' coaching video department in 2002.
"I can't quantify what being in Baltimore meant for me," Pettine said. "I don't think I could have laid a stronger foundation for my coaching career."
As a young coach, Pettinie worked alongside some of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. He with Rex Ryan, Mike Singletary, Mike Nolan, Chuck Pagano and Mike Smith – all five of whom went on to become NFL head coaches.
Pettine earned the trust of the coaching staff while working in the video department, and eventually became a defensive quality control coach, and then the outside linebackers coach.
"I got thrown in with the defensive staff, and you just look at the guys that were on that staff – just how fortunate I was to be able to learn from those guys," Pettine said. "I was obviously very fortunate later on when Harbs was hired, that he retained me on the staff. It was a great experience for me to work with him that one year – I learned so much."
When Ryan became the head coach of the Jets, he brought along Pettine as the defensive coordinator. Pettine moved on to Buffalo as the defensive coordinator last season and was hired by the Browns in January.
His Cleveland career is off to a strong start, especially after Sunday's upset victory over the New Orleans Saints.
"He has done very well since he left here as a defensive coordinator, and now he's off to the very good start as a head coach," Harbaugh said. "[We have] lot of respect for him and the way he coaches."
Veteran Ravens defenders raved about the kind of coach Pettine was in Baltimore.
"Phenomenal coach," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's your type of coach. He likes you being yourself, from what I remember. I don't think anything has changed, especially with how inspired they are playing right now."
A challenge for Baltimore this weekend is that Pettine knows the Ravens defense inside and out. Even as the Ravens have gone through coordinator changes over the years, the fundamental system hasn't gone through massive changes.
The Ravens expect Pettine to incorporate that knowledge into the game plan.
"He understands a lot of things, especially with our defense," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "He understands the way we play defense. I think he's just going to try to use that against us."
Both teams have plenty at stake in the early season division matchup, as the Ravens have goals of a division title and the Browns are trying to build a new foundation with Pettine at the helm. Pettine acknowledged that facing the team where his NFL career started makes the game a little more significant for him, and now he's also getting his first taste on the other side of the Ravens-Browns rivalry.
"Just knowing the Cleveland-Baltimore rivalry and now being a part of it on the other end certainly adds to it," Pettine said.