Jets coaches pass football to sons
McDonald, Mornhinweg & Co. reminisce as they head into Father's Day weekend
Tim McDonald is ready to get away. In a couple of weeks, the New York Jets' secondary coach will head to the Bahamas for a resort vacation, restarting a family tradition. The McDonalds went every offseason in the 1990s, when Tim was one of the top safeties in the NFL.
"This one's on me instead of dad," T.J. said this week in a phone interview. "I wouldn't be in this position if it weren't for him. I owe everything to him."
The McDonalds' father-son football story is one of several for the Jets, adding extra meaning to Father's Day this Sunday. Five dads from the Jets' coaching staff and front office have sons that will be playing college football in the fall.
There's Skyler Mornhinweg (quarterback, Florida), Brad Idzik (wide receiver, Wake Forest), Karmichael Dunbar (defensive lineman, Louisiana-Lafayette), Zachary Devlin (tight end, Bryant) and Seth Ryan (wide receiver, Clemson).
Who says the son never shines on the Jets?
"I don't know of any other thing that I enjoy more than sitting out in right field and watching the kids play baseball or softball or leaning against a fence in the end zone and watching them play football," said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, the father of two sons and two daughters.
Mornhinweg, himself a former college quarterback, never coached one of Skyler's teams, but he tutored him at the Philadelphia Eagles' facility during offseasons. Mornhinweg was an Eagles assistant from 2003-12, and he created "Marty's Camp" for his kids -- a full day of training, just like the pros.
He and Skyler, highly recruited out of high school, spent a lot of father-son time at the facility. It was a full day of football, kind of like their own OTA session: Breakfast. Practice. Lunch. Practice. Weight room. Film room.
"I told him, 'If you want my help, I'll do it, but I'll coach you hard,' " Mornhinweg said. "I think he liked it that way."
Skyler endured an intense recruiting process. He verbally committed to Stanford, but changed his mind when Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers. His next choice was Penn State -- the late Joe Paterno made a strong impression on the family -- but the Jerry Sandusky scandal hit, putting the football program in a state of uncertainty.
There was a lot of pressure on Skyler, one of the top high-school players in Pennsylvania, but he de-committed from Stanford and opted for Florida. Now, as a redshirt freshman, he'll be battling for the No. 2 job in fall camp.
On the other hand, there was never any doubt where T.J. McDonald would play college ball. His father was an all-American at USC, continuing a tradition of great Trojan safeties. He went on to a 13-year career with the Arizona Cardinals and 49ers, earning six All-Pro selections and a Super Bowl ring in San Francisco.
is a St. Louis Rams rookie.
Upon his retirement in 1999, Tim McDonald was offered a coaching job by the 49ers, but turned it down to spend time with his sons, T.J. and Tevyn. They had lived apart for nearly two years, McDonald playing in San Francisco and his family living in Fresno.
"My wife drew the line," McDonald said. "She said, 'You need to get to know these boys a little bit.' When I was playing, I didn't spend a whole lot of time with them, so it was important to reconnect."
So McDonald went home and accepted the head-coaching job at his alma mater, Edison High School in Fresno. Those years turned out to be magical, largely because he got the chance to coach his sons. He wanted to teach them "the right way" to play football -- proper tackling technique, how to protect themselves, etc. The job was a daily joy.
"There was no greater feeling than driving to school with them every day and having that father-son relationship," McDonald said. "It was pretty amazing. At night, we'd sit down at the dinner table and talk football. It was 24/7. If we weren't sleeping, we were talking football."
McDonald coached Edison for another year after Tevyn, a year younger than T.J., graduated. McDonald then took a coaching internship with the Seattle Seahawks, launching his second career. By that point, T.J. was thriving at USC.
"It took me a while to realize it, but he wasn't preparing me for Friday nights, he was preparing me for Sundays and Mondays," said T.J., reflecting on his high-school days with his dad. "He was real hard on me, harder than anybody else. I understand why now."
T.J. was only nine when his father retired, so the memories of his dad's playing career are fuzzy. He remembers some playoff games and team Christmas parties. He hasn't studied his dad's old games, because they're on VHS tapes, but he has seen the highlights -- and there are plenty.
In a way, the Rams are the perfect team for T.J. His head coach is Jeff Fisher, a USC alum who once worked as Tim's position coach with the 49ers. St. Louis is also where Tim began his career in 1987, but as a member of the Cardinals, not Rams.
"Is that unbelievable or what?" the proud dad said.
Jets' defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, too, is a former Cardinal -- he missed McDonald by two years in Arizona. Now he's hoping his son can also follow a path to the NFL. At 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, Karmichael has his dad's size, but he's only a redshirt freshman at Louisiana-Lafayette.
For most of the Jets' father-son connections, football is the family business. Rex Ryan learned the game from his father, former longtime coach Buddy Ryan, and, in turn, he has passed the knowledge on to Seth, a freshman walk-on at Clemson.
Likewise, general manager John Idzik grew up around the game, as his father, John, spent four decades coaching on the college and pro levels.
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It's a similar story with offensive line coach Mike Devlin, a former NFL lineman who ended his seven-year career with the Cardinals in 1999. (Yes, another Arizona connection.) His father, the late John Devlin, coached for 35 years in college, plus two years as the linebackers coach for the Houston Oilers.
"Good, bad or indifferent, my father always made me feel like I was the best player out there," Devlin said. "That's how I try to coach these guys here [with the Jets]. I've taken everything from my father."
He took the same approach with his son, Zachary, who played center for Mt. Sinai High School on Long Island. Devlin always figured his son would be a center -- a chip off the old blocker. He remembers him in diapers, squatting like his dad.
Zachary has grown to 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, and he's such a good athlete that the coaches at Bryant envision him as a blocking tight end. However, his career nearly took a horrible turn last fall, when he broke his leg in his final regular-season game and needed surgery.
It happened the week of Hurricane Sandy, and there were complications at the hospital due to the power outage. A one-week stay turned into two weeks. Fortunately for Dad, the Jets were on their bye week. He remained at his son's side, sleeping on a chair next to the bed.
For six nights.
"I might be a football coach, but I'm like any other parent," Devlin said. "When you see your child go down and go through something like that, you forget about everything else. You're a father first."
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