On Wednesday Special Teams Coordinator Ben Kotwica took the same position with the Washington Redskins. His contract had expired with the Jets and with all due respect to a decorated war hero he did not do his job with the Jets very well. When reached for comment Mike Westhoff, who is now an analyst for SNY and ESPN Radio 98.7FM, Westhoff said:
“I’m no youngster, but I know I could [return to coaching]. I didn’t like the way it ended up,” said Westhoff, alluding to the Jets’ special-teams struggles in 2012. “But I’m very happy with what I’m doing, my decision to retire. I’m not looking to get back into coaching, but I’ll always look at everything. I’ll never say ‘never.’” -Rich Cimini, January 15th blog post entitled “Could Mike Westhoff pull a Brett Favre?”
So instead of putting doubt to rest that he is retired Westhoff instead basically threw his hat in the ring for the job. Westhoff is a football lifer and he belongs on the sideline teaching and coaching. I think the year away has fueled his competitive fire especially seeing up close how bad special team were for the Jets this year. The question is based on both his entire storied career and the disastrous way it ended in 2012 is he the right man for the job?
The measure of a special teams coordinator is the return game, both drawing up plays to break returns and stopping the opponents. In 2013 Ben Kotwica’s unit averaged 22.7 yards per kickoff return and nine yards per punt return while allowing 22.3 yards per kickoff return and 11.3 yards per punt returns. They did not score a touchdown on either return team nor did they allow one. In 2012 under Westhoff they averaged 26 yards per kickoff return and 10.3 per punt return with a touchdown on a punt and kickoff return and allowed 21.9 yards per kick return and 12.1 yards per punt return with a kick and punt return allowed. The problem in 2012 was turnovers. There were two blocked punts compared to one in 2013 and McKnight and Kerley put the ball on the ground seven times in 2012. Those numbers actually favor Kotwica so the question is, is this the Mike Westhoff that the Jets would get in 2014 or is this an outlier compared to the rest of his career?
According to Pro Football Reference’s Simple Ratings Scale Jets special teams had a -6.1 rating in 2013, a -5.9 rating under Westhoff in 2012 but the previous 4 years all had positive grades including a +6.5 in 2010 and a +8.2 in 2009. Every year from 2012 back to 2002 there was a kick or punt return for a touchdown. He made special teams stars out of Joe McKnight, Brad Smith, Leon Washington, Santana Moss, Justin Miller, and Jonathan Carter with only Washington and Moss ever being effective outside of Westhoff’s system. His teams were known for being innovative, effective and sound in their technique. In short Mike Westhoff is a very good special teams coordinator.
I think that a Westhoff/Jets reunion makes sense on a number of levels. First, he knows the players and has worked under Rex Ryan. Second he would be willing to work under a one year deal because he believes in himself and Rex Ryan. Third, despite 2012, he is a good coordinator and I don’t think anyone better is out there. I think it is a marriage of convenience that works for both parties while the team is at a crossroads. Wholesale changes will be made following the 2014 season if Ryan fails but for now stability is needed and Mike Westhoff is the man to provide it to the special teams.