He’s retired as an NFL assistant coach after his three-decades cup of coffee. He’s reorganized his house in Fort Myers, Fla., for fulltime occupation. He’s done speaking engagements and clinics at Texas A&M, LSU and Notre Dame. He’s been fishing a lot, for tarpon — “I caught an incredible, ‘monster’ tarpon. I’ve hit them before but never successfully got one” — and trout and a half-dozen sharks, all catch-and-release. With his multi-procedure leg finally feeling great, he’s ready to pick up the game of golf again after a 15-year hiatus.“That’s where it is. That’s enough,” said Coach Westy. “I’m enjoying it.”Most of all, he seems to be enjoying his new role ahead as a member of the Jets media. He’s signed a contract with ESPN to work the Jets’ pregames this year, both preseason and regular season, and he’ll also be dropping in on ESPN radio shows during the week when needed. Check out Mike at the start of his newly begun radio career on Tuesday afternoon on the Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
That’s one of the things he likes most about his (semi-)retirement: the freedom.“I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I love where I live. I love living in Florida yet still being able to come back to New York,” he said over a quick tuna-melt muffin in the Jets’ second-floor servery at the Atlantic Health Training Center.“I’m excited about doing radio. I think it’ll be fun. Presenting a certain perspective is what I’m interested in doing,” he said. “It keeps me involved in what I love doing, but not to the degree I did as a coach. Let’s put it this way: I miss a lot of the interaction with the guys, the players and coaches. I don’t miss the scheduling thing.”
Westhoff’s trip to his home away from home since 2001 filled several needs. He’ll visit with his new “signalcallers” at ESPN in New York City this afternoon. He also came by to make the rounds at practice, but only “behind the yellow line” from where the media watched today’s OTA session.Mike was hired in part for his incredible visibility as the highly successful Jets and Dolphins special teams guru, as well as for his call-’em-as-I-see-’em opinions. He’ll have plenty of those beginning tomorrow with Kay, but he had a few positive observations about the Jets’ teams and on Ben Kotwica, who’s succeeded him as the coordinator of those specialists.“Oh, Ben will do fine,” Westhoff said. “They looked fine today. They’re organized, they know what they’re doing. It’s a challenge, but he’s got some things to work with.”He mentioned some of the Jets’ holdovers this year that Kotwica and ST assistant Louie Aguiar are working with: K Nick Folk, P Robert Malone, returners Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley, blockers and tacklers Nick Bellore, Josh Mauga, Isaiah Trufant, Kenrick Ellis, long-snapper Tanner Purdum.“They have some very solid ingredients. Now it all has to come together. There’s certainly a good chance that it will,” Westhoff said. “Training camp’s in a couple of weeks. We’ll find out pretty soon.”
Westhoff was also cryptic about a sign he used to hang in his first-floor office: “Real Men Play on Sundays.” We think that has something to do with playing with injuries. We’ll hear more from Mike on that in the coming weeks and months.As for now, after real men play on enough Sundays, they get to go back to Florida, fish sharks and 200-pound tarpon, play golf on the course where their house is located, and come back to New York to comment on the other real men who are still playing on Sundays. All the best in retirement, Mike.
This being a media day, some reporters seemed to want to pin head coach Rex Ryan down to a timetable for declaring his starting quarterback for training camp and the season ahead. Not surprisingly, Rex said it’s not time for that yet.“I don’t think we’re close to that right now,”: he said after both Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith scrambled for red-zone completions against the defense while throwing to a still banged-up wideout corps. “And I think the process, you don’t have to make that move until we feel 100 percent comfortable with that decision. Until then we’ll just leave to the competition.”
Ryan confirmed, not that it’s a surprise, that it’ll be his call on the starter behind C Nick Mangold for opening day against the Buccaneers.“It won’t be just my evaluation,” he said. “But at the end of the day I guess it will be. If there’s a split camp, then I will make that decision.”
NY Jets new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica prepared to fill shoes of Mike Westhoff
Ben Kotwica is starting his first season as the Jets’ special teams coordinator, but considering his background, dealing with AFC East opponents should not intimidate him.
Kotwica, who replaced Mike Westhoff this offseason as the head man of the Jets special teams, is a military veteran who served in the Iraq War as a captain. The coordinator believes his military background has a strong correlation to the leadership qualities he has a coach."Yes. I think when you were in the position as I was as a company commander, in the military, there's a huge element of leadership there," Kotwica told the the Daily News. "As a coach, you're also a leader. As a captain in the military, you're also coaching, you're mentoring."
The coordinator flew Apache helicopters for eight years, including a tour of Bosnia in 2000. He was stationed in Korea in 2001 and when he returned, Kotwica began to think about the possibility of coaching football. He had played at Army, and had always been told he had the requisite cognizance of the game to be a coach."I was 5-10, 195 pounds, so there was certain characteristics that you had to have in a big man’s game to kind of survive," said Kotwica. "Those qualities were ones that people had always mentioned."
That desire to coach was temporarily derailed, however, when Kotwica landed in Iraq in March of 2004, and stayed for 13 months. He enjoyed his military experience on the whole, but called his time in Iraq "challenging."
"There's a little bit of correlation there that you make between the military and athletics. You get put in situations, whether it be in the military or be athletics, where a lot of how you go about your day-to-day operations is the people surrounded by you," he said. "Just like the NFL's a business, the military is a business. There's a lot of carryover there. Just being able to command troops, being in front of the group. Leading, has had a tremendous carryover into what I do now day-to-day.
Westhoff, who retired after last year, believes Kotwica has what it takes to succeed with the Jets."Being involved as a combat helicopter pilot gives you a lot of experience in pressure situations and leading through those," said Westhoff "Being able to communicate. He's got those experiences."In 2005 and 2006, following his tour in Iraq, Kotwica coached at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at Fort Montmouth, before Bob Sutton — Kotwica's coach at Army and then the Jets defensive coordinator — came calling to see if Kotwica wanted to jump to the NFL. He did.
Kotwica didn’t have a particular affinity or attraction to special teams. He had a defensive background first, and, growing up in Chicago, fell in love with Buddy Ryan's 1985 Bears defense. With special teams, he almost fell into it because of the opportunities in front of him. He was hired to work on defense quality control and special teams for Eric Mangini, the Jets head coach at the time, but shifted to special teams full time when Rex Ryan, Buddy’s son, was hired in 2009. Ryan brought in a new defensive staff, and because Kotwica had worked so well with Westhoff, became the assistant special teams coordinator.
When Westhoff decided 2012 would be his last season, Kotwica was the obvious choice as successor.Westhoff said he'd seen Kotwica develop a strong connection with the players, who often would make a last stop in Kotwica's office to watch tape one more time before they went home at night.Westhoff would be a hard man to replicate; stern and fiery when he needed to be but always honest. Kotwica is more understated, particularly when it comes to loud expletives on the field, but Westhoff said there are probably more similarities than differences between the two.
"I'm a little more vociferous, that's a polite way of saying it," said Westhoff. "(But) Ben is every bit as aggressive and commanding as I was."Louie Aguiar, the new assistant special teams coordinator, worked with the Jets during last preseason and has therefore worked with both Westhoff and now under Kotwica.
"Looking at Westhoff, I got him at the end of his career. He's very knowledgeable, a great coach," said Aguiar. "Ben's picked up a lot of that knowledge from him and is designing a lot of punt returns, kickoff returns, and I can see the brain working when we're looking at stuff. They're minds are always trying to make the team better."