In the short history of the TJB Hall of Fame, very rarely has a player or coach been inducted so soon after the end of his career. But very rarely has the team been fortunate to have someone of the skill, creativity and success as longtime special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
When considering the components of football, most people usually only think about offense and defense, but for 12 seasons, Westhoff forced Jets’ opponents to consider special teams—or pay the price.
Every season during Westhoff’s tenure, the Jets had at least one return for a TD—an NFL record—and 16 scoring returns overall, which means at least once a season we all leapt straight into the air screaming our brains out! To put that in perspective, from 2001-10, each year on average less than half the teams had one kickoff return TD. In the two years since the kickoff rules were changed: Only 10 teams had a kickoff return TD in 2012, and 9 in 2011—and the Jets were one of those teams each year.
Consequently, every year under Westhoff, the Jets would always be among the league leaders in kickoff return yardage, and whoever was the Jets returner would be in the discussion for the Pro Bowl. A true star maker! Chad Morton, Justin Miller, Leon Washington, Brad Smith and Joe McKnight are among those whose values skyrocketed thanks to special teams and the innovative blocking schemes designed by Westhoff. Seven different players returned kicks for TDs under his watch.
In 27 NFL seasons (he “wasted” 15 with the Dolphins), Westhoff coached in 624 games, and numerous times his units finished among the NFL leaders in terms of kickoff and punt coverage, field position and return yards. His Jets special teams also blocked 12 kicks/punts in 12 years.
Of course, the on-field exploits are only half the story with Mike Westhoff. From his well-documented battles against cancer to his love of shark-fishing to his … colorful and forthright manner of expressing himself, he has endeared himself to Jets fans everywhere. He became a sensation during the Jets’ time on HBO “Hard Knocks,” which is the only “Mike’d Up” we really care about.
Some of our favorite quips from over the years:
On current Jets punter Robert Malone, who’d had a punt blocked during the 49ers game: “He had enough time back there to read ‘War and Peace.’”
On former Jets punter Steve Weatherford, who had left the team: "I was very happy in Steve with some things he did and very, very disappointed in others. To tell you the truth, I don't want to be 23rd. We're not 23rd in anything else. Wherever we are, I am trying to get better, so that's why we made the move.”
During an interview: “You can’t win with the players you don’t have.”
On the playing the Washington Redskins [“Hard Knocks”]: "I don’t care what they do. Do what we do well, and we can win. Redskins … f--- them!"
On former Jet David Clowney [“Hard Knocks”]: “We've been talking about David's ability, for crying out loud, since Bush was president. He could be a star, but I don't know."
Again, on Clowney [“Hard Knocks”]: “You head right for the bus if that happens Saturday night, right for the bus! You, I'd promise you I'd cut you right on the f-ckin' field!"
To Matt Mulligan [“Hard Knocks”]: "Quit getting f---ing exasperated, you didn't play that many plays and you look like you're dead. I don't give a sh-- if you have the triple f---ing Asian flu."
Again, to Mulligan [“Hard Knocks”]: “Sometimes it’s important, for all of us, to know what we can and what we can’t do, where our strengths lie. You’re not [Tony] Gonzalez, so who gives a sh-t? You’re a good blocker, you’re strong as hell, you’re tough. Play to those strengths."
On punter T.J. Conley [“Hard Knocks”]: "This time last year [...] I would have traded him for a night off!"
To a random player [“Hard Knocks”]: “When in doubt knock the hell out of somebody. That's what we want to see. That's your job!”
And yes, we’re still waiting for Brashton Satele to open that freakin’ pizza shop in the Bronx.
But as much as he was harsh on players, he was a great motivator, too.
As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, listening to Westhoff bark at players during practices, I’ve come to picture 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!”
As mentioned at the beginning, one third of NFL football is special teams, and the Jets were spoiled by having one of the greatest 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 was also a leader, a teacher and fiery competitor.
Quite simply, Mike Westhoff was a pure joy to watch as he roamed the Jets sidelines on Sundays, furiously scribbling game-changing plays on a whiteboard and coaching the part of the game that very few others—if any—knew better. We will miss him on the field, but it’s with that same enthusiasm and passion for the game that we welcome him to the TJB Hall of Fame.