GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike Pettine once explained his decision to coordinate the Green Bay Packers defense from high above in the coaches’ box, in part, like this:
"I'm an information guy," Pettine said. "I'll have a lot of information spread out in front of me. When you're on the sideline, you're usually limited to kind of what you're carrying, and I don't want to be that guy that looks like he's flipping through a Cheesecake Factory menu while I'm looking for stuff on defense."
Don’t send any waiters or waitresses to the sideline this year, because Pettine will be there flipping pages looking for the right blitzes -- not trying to order blintzes.
A significant jump is expected from the Packers’ defense in Pettine’s second year as coordinator, and he wants a different view than he had last season. Pettine has coached from the sideline in the two preseason games this year and plans to remain there when the regular season begins. It’s a big change, especially for someone who spoke in such detail before last season about why he preferred to coach from the 700 level suites at Lambeau Field and high above in other stadiums.
"I just felt the need to be a little bit more hands-on," Pettine said.
There’s also the matter of halftime -- otherwise known as the fastest 12 minutes in football for those who coach from upstairs.
"Here at Lambeau, it’s not the easiest path to get to the press box," Pettine said. "It takes some time. You have to go to the elevator, then you’re up and then you’re on a golf cart. Then, you’re off of that and you’re in an elevator lobby and you’re up to another elevator lobby and then you’re out and you walk. It’s a process and you have to leave early enough to get up there and get settled. You kind of miss that time at the end to be able to address the players and look them in the eye, and go around and make any adjustments pregame and the same thing at halftime. By the time you get down, those halftimes go pretty quick."
The playcalling process doesn’t change. Pettine can still speak directly into the helmet speaker of the one allotted player. For the Packers, that’s inside linebacker Blake Martinez. The one-way communication device turns on immediately when a play ends and shuts off when the play clock gets down to 15 seconds.
But with Pettine upstairs, if Martinez -- or any defensive player -- wanted to talk to him between series, they either had to get on a headset or give the information to a position coach to relay. That’s not necessary now.
"We go back to the sideline, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, did you hear any adjustments? Did you hear any checks they made?’" Martinez said. "That can help him understand what types of playcalls he wants to make going forward."
Pettine still has some eyes in the sky. Of the seven coaches in the box for games, three are defensive guys -- Wendel Davis and Christian Parker (both defensive quality control assistants) plus Ryan Downard (assistant defensive backs).
"When I look back to last year, having a run-game coordinator in Pat Graham and Joe Whitt as the pass-game coordinator, just feeling better about how the sideline was being handled and being up there, that was my history," Pettine said. "Part of it is I’m an information guy. I like to spread out. I feel this past year I was able to train some of the guys that are here who are still going to be up top as far as what I’m looking for, information-wise, that I can get the best of both worlds. I can still get that info without having to be up there."
Rookie outside linebacker Rashan Gary only knows Pettine as a coordinator who works on the sideline, but he said there have been several instances during the preseason games when Pettine has gathered either the entire defense or a position group together for a sideline discussion between series.
"He’d be like, 'During this formation, they came out three times and ran the same play, so be ready for it,’" Gary said.
Beyond his wealth of information and years of experience, there’s Pettine's presence. He once said, "I’ve been told my natural resting gaze is not a pleasant one." He’s the boss of the defense, and there’s something to be said for having the boss nearby.
"When he talks, you listen," Gary said.
New Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith knows of no other way in the NFL. In Washington, where he played the past four seasons, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky also worked from the sideline.
"It’s a quick, direct line of communication as far as knowing the groups you want in and making adjustments during the game," Smith said. "To be able to walk up to someone and tell them what you want right away instead of communicating it through a microphone is much better."
However, new safety Adrian Amos played last season in Chicago, where defensive coordinator Vic Fangio worked from the box.
"I guess there’s benefits to both," Amos said. "In the box, you can see stuff from top down, but the level of communication, you still have to go through somebody. Being on the field, it’s more direct and you can see the players’ point of view."
New Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who retained Pettine from previous coach Mike McCarthy’s staff, said he left the decision on where to coach from on game day up to Pettine.
Pettine said he last called defensive plays from the sideline in 2013 with the Bills. Of that experience, he once said: "I felt like I was shooting from the hip a little too much and regretted 'Oh wow, I wish I thought of that,' whereas at least now I can look at the call sheet, cross out what I've called. And that's difficult to do when you're down on the sideline."
This year, however, he feels differently. With defensive acquisitions like Smith, Amos and Za'Darius Smith in free agency and Gary and Darnell Savage Jr. in the first round of the draft, he might not have to use as much scheme as he did last year to mask the lack of playmaking talent.
"With our call sheet being simpler this year, I think we can cut down on our volume," Pettine said. "I don’t have to have access as much stuff up top to spread out and go through. So I just felt it was a natural thing to make the move."