This may be the first AFC Championship Game for the New York Jets in more than a decade, but the three coaches at the helm all have a long family history of football success.
Head coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine are each the offspring of well-known, well-respected members of the coaching fraternity.
|Marty Schottenheimer began NFL coaching in 1975; Brian's been the Jets' offensive coordinator since 2006. (Getty Images)|
Rex's father is the legendary Buddy Ryan, who himself won a Super Bowl ring with the Jets in 1969 as the linebackers coach, before eventually serving as defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s when he invented the 46 defense that was instrumental in winning Super Bowl XX.
The 75-year-old Buddy, who likes to say he's been around since "before the NFL was invented," started in the college ranks -- after serving as a master sergeant during the Korean War -- and admits to not being interested in professional football at first.
However, after establishing a reputation for himself at the college level, Weeb Ewbank, the renowned head coach of the New York Jets, came calling. "I flew to New York and slept on a training table in Shea Stadium until Weeb picked me up and took me to the office," recalled Buddy. "Then I spent a couple of days with him."
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Marty Schottenheimer, father of Brian, played linebacker in the AFL, NFL and then the World Football League, briefly coaching in the WFL before transitioning into an NFL coaching career that spanned three decades and more than 200 wins (one of less than 10 NFL coaches to achieve this), although he never advanced further than the AFC Championship Game (in 1986, 1987 and 1993).
Marty originally had no interest in coaching given the struggles he experienced as a player.
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"I said, 'There's no way in hell I want to coach, I can't take any more rejection,'" he laughed.
However, once he made the jump, he took to it quickly.
"I wasn't a very good player," he said. "But I saw the opportunity to teach players how to do it, to be the best they can be through the instruction I was able to impart. And they took that info and their physical skills and I lived vicariously through them."
Both Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer became interested in coaching early on, knowing they wanted stay attached to the sport, but anticipating that their talent level as players would not get them to the next level.
"My dad never had a bad day," Ryan said of how he viewed his father's career growing up. "He would be upset if they lost or something but the next day, he had a smile on his face and a hop in his step because he was excited to be going to work."
Brian was so focused on pursuing a coaching career that he transferred from Kansas to be a backup at Florida in order to have better coaching opportunities. While his father was somewhat skeptical of the choice, he eventually went along with it and things then came full circle, when, from 2002-2005, Brian served as quarterbacks coach for his father's San Diego Chargers.
|Rex Ryan calls defensive coordinator Mike Pettine 'my right-hand man.' (US Presswire)|
Mike Pettine Jr. was the only one of the three who briefly ventured outside the world of football after college, testing the waters by working in the insurance industry. He quickly realized that football was too much a part of him to leave behind.
"I never thought for a second that I wanted to be a coach," he said. "I wanted to get into business. It really didn't dawn on me until I got out of football how much I missed it. I never realized what a big part of my life it was until I didn't have it anymore."
Mike Jr.'s unusual route ultimately landed him in Baltimore working with Rex Ryan, where the two became a strong tandem and upon being hired as the Jets head coach, Ryan brought his friend with him.
Mike Jr., who grudgingly accepted his father's often strident coaching throughout his youth, quickly realized just how much he had learned both tangibly and intangibly during those years.
"It really did amaze me how much it did bring back so many of the coaching points [my father] made over the years and how it was kind of ingrained," Mike Jr. said. "It was something that I think came natural because I'd been around it so long."
Mike Sr. spent his entire career coaching high school football in Pennsylvania where he holds the highest winning percentage record in state history, including four state championships. He admits that during his son's school years, he was a task master, that his wife finally banned football talk at the dinner table. However, not to be deterred, Mike Sr. would pull over on the side of the road when the two were driving home from practice in order to make sure he was able to get all of his points across to Mike Jr.
Now all three sons are on the cusp of making history together for the New York Jets. And all three fathers will be watching.