Coaching is teaching is coaching, and Mike Westhoff showed the close relationship between the two when he spoke this morning before a different roomful of young people than he’s generally accustomed.
“For every Darrelle Revis who’s a No. 1 pick, every Nick Mangold and Mark Sanchez, there are a ton of guys just trying to find a way to be a success,” the Jets’ special teams coordinator told a room of 75 people, most of whom are students at Daytop New Jersey, a drug and alcohol substance abuse treatment and education program in Mendham. “How do you get from the point where you are or were to a point where you want to be?”
The rhetorical question resonated with this crowd, afterward in a question-and-answer session and before, when students Everett and Erica spoke briefly before Westhoff’s 45-minute remarks. Said Erica poignantly, “I want to show people I can be something other than a drug addict.”
Westhoff didn’t go down that road in his life but he’s had many other challenges thrown at him. Jets fans are well aware of his metal prosthesis inside his once cancerous left leg. He mentioned that as well as his hardscrabble upbringing.
“I was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in a row house. I wasn’t a very good student — in fact I was a terrible student,” Coach Westy said. “Then I woke up. I found a way. I figured it out.
“The guys in my room are trying to find out how to be successful, turn things around and make it in this business. I try to help them improve their image, their sense of worth.”
Westhoff’s delivery wasn’t much different than how he talks with reporters and his players, even though today’s target audience wasn’t as football-oriented. From his youth he segued into his higher education — he received his master’s in educational psychology — and his climb up the coaching ladder, from high school to college to pro coaching.
The cancer “changed everything” about his desire to be an NFL head coach someday, but it didn’t derail Iron Mike.
“We should all get T-shirts that say ‘Life Is Not Fair’,” he said. “But you take what you have, figure it out, make the best of it. I decided to be the best special teams coach ever. You can’t have that argument and I’m not in it. I’m in it.”
He was also into his audience, roving the field like a Brad Smith or an Eric Smith, moving from anecdotes involving a rabbit, a crow and a fox, to the devil, to Colin Powell and Harvard. And he was a bullet-point machine.
Secrets to surviving and thriving in the classroom?
1. Show up.
2. Pay attention.
3. Ask questions.
4. Don’t quit.
Success in life?
1. Take notes.
2. Find a way.
3. Get a plan.
Westhoff said this was the first time he’s spoken to at-risk youths but he’s done some corporate speaking before, most recently a few weeks ago. And he let on that with one year left on his coaching contract, he’s been getting feelers for some endeavors for his post-football life, from ESPN and the like.
But Westhoff, who recently turned 63, wasn’t announcing his retirement this morning. “I’m the luckiest guy you can ever know,” he told the students about his nearly 30 years in the game. He loves helping to get all those players who aren’t the top picks from their personal point A to point B, guys like Larry Izzo, the 5’10″, 228-pound linebacker who has three Super Bowl rings and three Pro Bowl berths to his credit, and Bernie Parmalee, the former Jets and Dolphins RB who recently told Mike’s son, John, “Your dad changed my life.”
And he also still loves the challenge of getting ever closer to his first Super Bowl berth, and the victories that have helped him and his Jets get that close.
In January, he recalled, “We went into Indianapolis and beat a very good Colts team. Then we went up to New England and beat those guys, who I’d rather beat than go to heaven.” Then for those who didn’t catch his intent, “It’s just a metaphor.”
We suspect Westhoff’s team will beat the Patriots a few more times before he hangs it up and he’ll get into heaven. He’ll find a way. He’ll get a plan.
About Daytop New Jersey
Founded in 1992, Daytop New Jersey is a comprehensive substance abuse co-occurring treatment and education center for male and female adolescents with facilities in Mendham, Pittsgrove, Parsippany, Flemington and Clayton, N.J. The program is individualized, family-based, cost-effect, peer-oriented and multidiscipinary in nature. The treatment center provides a comprehensive drug and alcohol program as well as a full education in the new preparatory school for both residential and outpatient students. For more information visit Daytop New Jersey’s Website.
Dig Spreads the Grid Word
We let you know last week about S James Ihedigbo’s role in the group representing Amobi Okoye Foundation, the International Federation of American Football and USA Football that is visiting Africa and helping spread word about the great game. Here’s a link to a video on usafootball.com showing “Dig” and his friends on their mission.
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