Jets assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica and his squad’s “battle rhythm” is not readily apparent to the dozens of media members along the sideline during practices and in the pressbox at games. To the members of five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces who attended the Jets’ practice on Friday, it may have been more noticeable.
“I think the background that I have not only going to West Point and being an officer for eight years has provided huge dividends,” said Kotwica, the fourth-year Jets coach, a U.S. Army veteran and a standout linebacker for the Black Knights, “not only in organization and leadership and communicating skills, but being able to multitask and get a couple of things done at once. That’s something that we had to do on a daily basis in the military and some of those skills are transferrable to what we do not only during practice but on gameday as well.”
When at Army, Kotwica played under current Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton, and since that time the two have shared a special bond that is part coach, friend and mentor. Since joining the Jets, Kotwica, who toured in South Korea, Bosnia and Iraq, has worked under legendary coordinator Mike Westhoff.
The Green & White celebrate their 11th annual Military Appreciation Day when they play the Texans on Sunday, but last week, prior to Veterans Day, Westhoff and crew made sure to honor Kotwica with a special “Captain’s Chair” during a practice session.
“I have the utmost respect for Ben,” Westhoff said. “Coming out of West Point and serving in the military … I couldn’t be happier for us to give him some type of tribute. Everybody cracked up and it was great. I have the utmost respect for what Ben did.”
The chair was labeled “Captain Kotwica” and punter Steve Weatherford even asked if he could get his decorated assistant coach a cup of coffee during a break in practice. The man who was promoted after only two seasons as a defensive quality control coach is mostly in charge on working with Weatherford, kicker Nick Folk and long snapper Tanner Purdum, not only on gameday but even this past week when he took them to New Meadowlands Stadium after practice to gauge conditions inside the stadium.
“He’s a great mediator between us and Coach Westhoff,” Purdum said. “He does a lot of work with us. The first thing he asks us is our opinion and what we think since we’re the ones doing it. That’s something I really like in a coach and really respect.”
The idea that the former defensive coordinator at USMA Prep is a mediator is pervasive throughout the locker room, confirmed by safeties James Ihedigbo and Eric Smith, who double as special teams aces. From taking players aside when they come off the field to making in-game corrections to developing that aforementioned “battle rhythm” with the kickers starting in pregame, Kotwica’s experience in the military has helped him become a better coach and a balance for the fiery Westhoff.
“I think there is a close correlation between being in the military and doing what we do now on a weekly basis,” Kotwica said. “What we do now isn’t life and death, but I do believe that there is something to be said about getting a group of guys together, focused on a common goal and executing a mission. That’s what happens in the military and that’s what happens here.”
In speaking with the former Apache attack helicopter pilot, you can feel the sincerity and seriousness with which he takes not only his job but his relationship with his players. The Chicago native has earned the respect and the trust of those around him, particularly among other dedicated and selfless “soldiers” within the Jets locker room.
“I think it’s the way he carries himself and conducts himself,” Smith said. “He’ll joke around but usually he’s pretty serious and on top of things. You know when he’s telling you something, it’s going to be right.”
Maybe that’s why Kotwica naturally gravitated to special teams — it’s a branch of the Jets “army” that puts all ego aside and sacrifices personal gain not only for the team but for one another.
Kotwica said his military service was “extremely rewarding,” not just because of the tasks he carried out and the places he went but mostly because of the people he served alongside. It’s a sentiment he hopes continues to flourish in Florham Park.
“The stronger that you can develop that bond amongst your team or your unit in the military, the more success you’re going to have,” Kotwica said. “If you can get a group of guys to be fighting for someone instead of something, you can accomplish tremendous things. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a military group that did that in Iraq, and I think there are clear markings of that happening here this year.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Ben Kotwica, Houston Texans, Mike Westhoff, Military Appreciation Day, new Meadowlands stadium, Nick Folk, Steve Weatherford, Tanner Purdum
Posted in Nick Gallo | 8 Comments »