With the news that Mike Westhoff is honest-to-goodness retiring, we asked our old friend and former TJB regular writer R in CT to write an homage to one of his favorite coaches Mike Westhoff. Enjoy!
So as some of you old-timers on the site know, I’ve long been a big fan of Mike Westhoff, and have greatly enjoyed watching him roam the Jets sidelines since he joined the team in 2001.
As he gets ready to coach in his last game—his 624th—before retiring and going on to the next phase of his life (TV analyst possibly?), it seemed like a great time for an appreciation of his Jets career.
I could bury you under all sorts of numbers to prove what a great impact he’s had on this franchise and how he’s contributed to its successes during his Jets career, but I thought the best number might be 10 …
As in …
The Top 10 Reasons I’ll Miss Mike Westhoff as Special Teams Coach of the New York Jets
10. Every year, I’ve looked forward to who was going to be the next breakout kickoff return star—Chad Morton, Justin Miller, Leon Washington, Brad Smith, Joe McKnight. Sure, the names changed, but the results were always the same: The Jets would always be among the league leaders in kickoff returns, and whoever was the Jets returner would be in the discussion for the Pro Bowl. A true star maker!
9. Every season during Westhoff’s 12-year tenure, the Jets have had at least one return for a TD—an NFL record—and 16 overall, which means at least once a season I leapt straight off my couch screaming my brains out! (Most exciting play in football, I’d argue.) To put that in perspective, from 2001-10, on average less than half the teams in the league have had one kickoff return TD, and since they changed the kickoff rules, only 10 teams have one this year and 9 last year. That’s a more impressive streak than anything the Baltimore Batman has done.
8. No one hops in glee like Westhoff down the sideline as he trails one of his returners taking it to the house. I know he’s had issues with his leg, but I’ve always loved how he’d get swept up in the rush of the moment, and those accursed crutches would fall by the wayside for a few moments. (And I’m very glad that he doesn’t even need them at all!)
7. There may be no more honest—or downright funny—coach. I was watching his farewell presser on Thursday, and not only did he take a few fun shots at Dave DeGuglielmo (“I was here during the hurricane, and available for interviews, but none of you asked.”), he also took a crack at Robert Malone, suggesting that during his punt that was blocked during the 49ers game, he had “enough time back there to read ‘War and Peace.’” I’m also still waiting for Brashton Satele to open his freaking pizza place. Pretty sure you won’t hear New England’s special teams coordinator Scott O’Brien making comments like that (if he’s allowed to make any at all).
6. Speaking of things that no other special team coaches are probably doing any time soon—reeling in sharks.
5. Sticking with the nautical theme, I’ve always pictured Westhoff a bit like Capt. Ahab (the crutches subbing for the peg leg), searching all these years for the elusive white whale that is the Lombardi Trophy. Just glad he’s going out on his own terms rather than inadvertently hooked to a whale (although he probably feels as if he’s been dragged to the bottom of the sea a few times after this year). “From hell’s heart, I punt at thee!”
4. Having Westhoff has always given the Jets an edge over most opponents as his special-team units have often been critical in field-position, and this past season notwithstanding, very rarely have they outright cost the Jets a game by giving up a big return. To put it simply: Not giving away free points is helpful in winning games, something that Mark Sanchez has yet to learn.
3. Listening to Westhoff bark at players during practices, I’ve often pictured him like Rocky’s trainer Mickey—I almost expected to see him have returners chasing chickens around the practice field or to hear that he told his players that he wanted them “to spit nails … and eat white lightning and crap green thunder!”
2. To copy another Burgess Meredith character, I always vaguely held out hope that he had his cane booby-trapped like The Penguin, and that during the appropriate moment during a game, when a key opposing player got near him on the sideline, he’d gas him with some knock-out tranquilizer. (For the record we actually don’t know that this has never happened.)
1. One third of NFL football is special teams, and as a Jets fan, I’ve been spoiled knowing that the team has had one of the best weapons in that regard: Westhoff’s beautiful mind. A true innovator in special teams (remember how after the kickoff changes, the Jets were among the first teams to work the inside-the-5-yard-line returnable kick to hold teams inside the 20 rather than just go for the touchback?), he’s also been a leader, a teacher and fiery competitor. He has been a pure joy to watch coach on (most) Sundays.
Good luck to Coach Westhoff! Despite the challenges this year, you have not been taken for granted and will be severely missed by all Jets fans!
R’s most recent book Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Connecticut History came out on Sept. 18, and is available for order from Amazon.com. If you want to read more from R in CT, feel free to follow him @raybendici or visit raybendici.com.