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Sunday, December 30, 2007
Procedure for bone cancer to sideline special teams coach

Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, a veteran of 25 NFL seasons, will not return next year because he needs a ninth operation on his ailing left leg.

Westhoff, who has battled bone cancer in the leg, announced Sunday he needs to have a procedure that will require a substantial amount of recovery time. Because of that, Westhoff won't be able to fully dedicate the time needed to coach.

"I'm not going to use the word 'retire,'" Westhoff said. "I'll be 60 in a week. I could, but I don't know. I want to get through this and see. I know that I will not coach next year. After that, I'll make the decision that's best for me. I just don't know."

Westhoff has had eight operations on his left leg since a malignant tumor was found in 1988. He has coached all season using crutches after having the latest procedure in February, and has been on the sidelines for all but one Jets game this season. The next operation is scheduled for Feb. 7.

"The graft that I have in my left leg keeps fracturing," he said. "It's not healing properly. They're going to replace it with a prosthetic rod from my hip to my knee. It will be a total replacement. It's a complex surgery that will take a lot of rehab time."

Westhoff, the Jets' special teams coach since 2001, told the players Sunday morning that he wasn't going to be with them next season. A tribute video, complete with a cane-throwing tantrum from one heated practice, was shown to the players after the announcement was made.

"I got a little teary-eyed because he's a good leader, a fiery guy and he makes you laugh at practice," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "Some days, his presence alone gets you going. He's going to be missed."

It was perhaps fitting that the Jets' season ended with Mike Nugent making a winning 43-yard field goal to beat Kansas City 13-10 in overtime. The team gave Westhoff the game ball after the victory.

"I've learned a lot from Coach," Nugent said. "Not just kicking, but just the relationship we've had. I'm excited to see him again after everything settles down."

Leon Washington thrived this season under Westhoff after replacing the injured Justin Miller as the Jets' primary kick returner. He ranked among the league leaders in return average and brought back three kickoffs for touchdowns.

"It's a complete shock," Washington said. "He might be the best special teams coach to ever coach this game. I definitely love him. Everybody on this team loves him."

After eight years at the college level, Westhoff coached with the Colts (1982-84), the Arizona Outlaws of the USFL (1985), Miami (1986-2000) and the Jets. He also helped develop a number of special teams stars, including Miller, Washington, Rohn Stark, Reggie Roby and Olindo Mare.

"I've been very lucky," Westhoff said. "I've coached about 550 games, including preseason and the playoffs. It's been an incredible honor for me."