New Jets coordinator Mornhinweg ready to lead way in offensive turnaround
It hit Marty Mornhinweg one morning on the scale. He was no longer a player. He had injured his knee a few years earlier playing quarterback for the Denver Dynamite of the Arena League. Mornhinweg figured he would return to playing at some point, but had become a coach in the interim.
Then he realized his future in football was wearing a whistle, not a helmet.
“I stepped on the scale and I thought the scale was broken,” Mornhinweg said. “I said, ‘I guess I’m coaching.’ ”
More than two decades have passed and Mornhinweg is still a coach, the new offensive coordinator of the Jets. After 10 seasons running the Eagles’ offense, Mornhinweg moved up the Turnpike to attempt to jumpstart the Jets offense, which was 30th in the NFL last season. He will be on the field today as the Jets begin rookie mini-camp with new quarterback Geno Smith.Bill Kostroun, University of Montana Athletics (below)LIFETIME OF LESSONS: New Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who set 89 offensive records as a four-year starting quarterback in college at Montana (below), is looking to answer all of Gang Green’s questions on offense with the knowledge he has acquired after more than 30 years as a coach. University of Montana Athletics LIFETIME OF LESSONS: New Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who set 89 offensive records as a four-year starting quarterback in college at Montana (above), is looking to answer all of Gang Green’s questions on offense with the knowledge he has acquired after more than 30 years as a coach.It is the latest stop in a football life for the 51-year-old who was born in Oklahoma, became a star high school quarterback in Northern California and won a Super Bowl in his first NFL job in Green Bay.
Mornhinweg became a high school legend at Oak Grove High in San Jose, Calif., in the late ’70s. He once played the second half of a playoff game with a broken ankle. He shattered records and drew recruiting letters from all of the biggest schools in the country.Then they discovered he was only 5-foot-10 and backed off. His high school offensive coordinator was Mike Holmgren, who would go on to become the head coach of the Packers and Seahawks. Holmgren once compared Mornhinweg with three all-time great quarterbacks he coached — Steve Young, Joe Montana and Brett Favre.
“If [Mornhinweg] had been a little taller,” Holmgren wrote in a Wisconsin newspaper, “he might have been better than all of those guys.”Instead, Mornhinweg went to Montana where he set 89 offensive records as a four-year starter.When he graduated with a health and physical education degree in 1985, he took a graduate assistant job, figuring he would get into coaching. But when he was home in the summer the 49ers needed a quarterback for camp. He went and learned from Bill Walsh and Montana, studying the coach as much as the quarterback.
“It was a great experience,” Mornhinweg said. “I got to take everything in half as a player and half as a coach.”He kept a notebook filled with plays from Walsh’s greaseboard, a notebook he still has today. He went on to play in the Arena League in 1987 before injuring his knee and ending his playing days.After bouncing around the college game for seven years, he took a quality control job with Holmgren and the Packers in 1995. A year later, he replaced Steve Mariucci as quarterbacks coach and the team won the Super Bowl. Mornhinweg then became the offensive coordinator of the 49ers under Mariucci.
In his first three years in the NFL, he coached Favre and then Young.
“I’ve been a little fortunate that way,” he said. “Those two are first-ballot Hall of Famers. Those two are quite different on and off the field. Brett is sort of a gunslinger. Steve is more of a surgeon.”Mornhinweg got a crack at being a head coach in 2001 with the Lions but lasted just two seasons, going 5-27.He went on to the Eagles where he went to another Super Bowl and then helped Michael Vick make his comeback from prison.When it became clear head coach Andy Reid’s time with the Eagles was over after last season, Mornhinweg and his wife, Lindsay, talked about returning to the West for his next job. Then, coach Rex Ryan called.
The Jets had just fired Tony Sparano, whose plodding style failed miserably in one year with the team. Ryan wanted to open up the offense and he wanted Mornhinweg to do it.Mornhinweg left his house outside Philadelphia early one morning in January to meet Ryan at the Jets’ headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. He arrived 90 minutes early and drove around Morris County. He was impressed by the area, the Jets’ building and then Ryan and owner Woody Johnson.
One more thing kept pulling him toward the Jets — New York.
“It’s only the epicenter of the world,” he said. “I never consciously thought about it but subconsciously I think I always wanted to coach in New York. Give it a whirl in New York, and here was the opportunity.”His wife was hesitant at first and then gave her blessing a few days later, telling Mornhinweg “just go for it. Go hit a homer.”
The Jets offense has questions at nearly every position. To answer those questions, Mornhinweg will need to draw from a lifetime of football lessons.