Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Updated: March 16, 10:14 AM ET
Mike Westhoff going about business
By Rich Cimini
MENDHAM, N.J. -- In Mike Westhoff's world, it's business as usual -- even though the business of pro football is shut down.
The longtime special-teams coordinator, the first New York Jets coach to comment publicly on the NFL lockout, said Tuesday the work stoppage is having no impact on his day-to-day duties. But there is one significant change -- smaller pay checks.
Westhoff said he's not opposed to the 25-percent pay cut for Jets coaches, expressing confidence that the leaders of the sport will resolve the dispute before games are lost -- and before the lost money is gone for good.
"All of us are involved and there's a certain amount of sacrifice everybody is going to make," Westhoff said after a motivational speech at the Daytop substance-abuse rehab center for adolescents. "I believe it's all going to work out just fine. I firmly believe that, but yet at the same time, we have to be prepared equally for sacrifices across the board."
The pay cut for head coach Rex Ryan and his entire staff went into effect last Friday when the league's owners locked out the players. General manager Mike Tannenbaum also is taking a 25-percent reduction. A clause in coaches' contracts allows teams to cut pay as much as 25 percent in the early stages of a lockout.
Some teams, including the Giants, said they have no immediate plans to slash salaries. The Jets' reduction is "very harsh," according to NFL coaches' association president Larry Kennan, but the Jets management claims it's fair because the lost wages will be recouped if no games are lost.
In the meantime, their checks will be lighter. A coach who makes $200,000 -- the going rate for a position coach -- will make $12,500 per month instead of $16,700, based on a 25-percent cut.
"I have incredible confidence and respect for the leaders in our business -- all aspects of it," said Westhoff, 63, an NFL assistant for three decades. "I think it's very well run. I believe these people will, as quickly as possible, get this all resolved."
Players are banned from facilities during the lockout, so there is no player-coach interaction. Westhoff said he's devoted to draft preparation, estimating he will write 75 to 90 prospect evaluation reports. The Jets have six draft picks, more than usual, so he's hoping to find special-teams gems in the middle rounds.
"For me, business is exactly as usual," he said.
But things will be different in the coming weeks. Ordinarily, the offseason program would begin next week, and the facility would be crowded with players. But now players are planning to organize off-site workouts among themselves. Westhoff said he will devote any down time to quality control, including extra time on scouting opponents.
The gregarious Westhoff gave an hour of his time to address 70 students and counselors at the Daytop school, displaying the charisma that entertained TV audiences last summer on HBO's "Hard Knocks." In fact, a school official invited Westhoff to speak after seeing him on the reality series.
Westhoff spoke for 30 minutes, sharing life lessons he learned from football and personal experiences. He told the rapt audience how his dream of becoming an NFL head coach was derailed by bone cancer in his leg, but how he reset his goals and decided to become the best special-teams coach -- ever.
"Am I ever going to do that? That's an argument you can never win, but I know one thing: You can't have that argument and I'm not in it," he said with his trademark confidence. "I'm in it."
The program began with Erica, a 17-year-old student from Monmouth (N.J.) County, telling the room, "I want to show everybody I can be something more than a drug addict." Westhoff took it from there, relating a few anecdotes about the Jets.
Referring to last season's stunning playoff win over the Patriots, Westhoff said, "I'd rather beat them than maybe go to heaven."
He was joking, presumably.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.