Work ethic, ties to Tomlin land Pettaway NFL coaching job
Tyrone Pettaway, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant coach, participates Mike Tomlin's tailgate party at NASCAR Sports Grille in Hampton on Friday. (Sangjib Min, Daily Press / July 9, 2011)
Oh, and all this in five years, landing the seriously connected Woodside High graduate with a promising NFL franchise at the ripe old age of 27.
You would figure wrong.
"I don't have a big ego," Pettaway said during this weekend's 15th Hampton Roads All-Star Football Camp at CNU. "I just like being an assistant coach. I like being under the radar. Coordinator is as high as I want to get. Maybe go work for my cousin some day."
Pettaway's first cousin is on all NFL radars. Mike Tomlin. Youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. A Newport News guy who graduated from Denbigh High and William and Mary.
Perhaps you've heard the name.
While Tomlin sprinted through the coaching ranks from his humble start as a VMI assistant to his current position with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pettaway was, indeed, under the radar. He was a second-team, All-Peninsula District linebacker as a senior in 2001, and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's defensive player of the year for Division II St. Augustine's in 2005.
Pettaway knew he wanted to coach, and his defensive coordinator at St. Augustine's gave him the chance. Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters, one of the NFL's fiercest players, had moved to Fort Valley State, an historically black university in Georgia, and he helped Pettaway land a graduate assistant's job.
Less than four months later, in November 2006, Waters committed suicide. He and Pettaway had spoken just days earlier.
"That," Pettaway said softly, "hurt."
And still does, a radical example of how repeated concussions and a high-stress profession can contribute to debilitating depression.
Coaching remained Pettaway's focus, and after two years at Fort Valley, his connections created another opportunity. CNU coach Matt Kelchner, a William and Mary assistant during Tomlin's playing days, had a staff opening prior to the 2008 season.
"Mike recommended him, and I hired him," Kelchner said. "He coached our defensive tackles and did a great job, worked his tail off all the time."
The 2008 team is the only one in CNU's 10-year history to navigate the USA South Conference undefeated, and following the season Kelchner received a phone call from Monte Kiffin, who as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive coordinator worked with a precocious secondary coach named Mike Tomlin.
Kiffin was set to become his son Lane's defensive coordinator at Tennessee, and Tomlin had recommended Pettaway as a quality-control intern for the defense. For more than an hour Kiffin grilled Kelchner about Pettaway, who accepted the job and accompanied the Kiffins last season for the same position at Southern California.
But the distance from home and the endless drama surrounding USC's NCAA sanctions convinced Pettaway to gaze back east. An assistant's opening at Harvard grabbed his attention, but then the Buccaneers called about a quality control job on defense.
"I didn't think twice," Pettaway said.
Of course he didn't. Tampa Bay was 10-6 last season, losing a tie-breaker to the Green Bay Packers for the NFC's final playoff spot, a marked upgrade from the previous year's 3-13.
Moreover, Bucs second-year coach Raheem Morris first joined the organization in 2002, the second of Tomlin's five seasons there.
"He's a great guy to work for," Pettaway said. "He reminds me so much of Mike."
Translation: Morris is young (34), supremely organized and a natural motivator.
Even as NFL players and owners bicker over billions, coaching staffs are on the clock, breaking down last season's game tapes and tweaking the upcoming season's playbook. It's tedious but necessary and an invaluable learning experience for a rookie NFL coach.
Tampa Bay ranked ninth among the NFL's 32 teams in scoring defense last season, and Pettaway will be exposed to veterans such as former Virginia All-American Ronde Barber, a cornerback with Hall of Fame credentials. But this weekend he was coaching hundreds of kids, returning to a camp that he attended and that organizers Carl Francis and Vernon Lee, through their Hampton Roads Youth Foundation, have turned into a community staple.
"What's been given to me," Pettaway said, "I feel I need to give back. God is good."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by email at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP