The Jets announced their first new coordinator hire late Tuesday.
"Ben Kotwica is going to replace Mike Westhoff as our special teams coordinator," head coach Rex Ryan said at his season-wrapup news conference.
The decision didn't come as much of a surprise as it was highly expected Kotwica would be chosen to take over Westhoff, who retired at the end of the season after a remarkable 30-year NFL coaching career.
"Obviously that's some huge shoes to fill," Ryan said. "Mike Westhoff is a legendary special teams coach. It was a privilege for me to coach with Mike for four seasons. If you want to know how big those shoes are just ask Westy. But I love Mike, and he's basically trained Ben Kotwica for this opportunity."
Kotwica has been with the Jets for the past six seasons. His first two years with the organization, he served as a quality control coach on defense and special teams. The last four seasons, he was the assistant special teams coach.
"Ben Kotwica does an awesome job with us," LB Nick Bellore, one of the Jets' special teams standouts, said during the final week of the regular season. "I think he'll pick up right where Mike left off. He brings some new elements, too, and sharing some of the old stuff. Mike will be missed, definitely. But Ben does a really good job with us and really takes the time to make sure everything is working right."
Westhoff missed OTAs in the spring as he underwent the latest emergency surgery on his leg. During his absence, Kotwica handled all of Westhoff's duties, which included 12 OTA sessions and three minicamp practices.
"I don't feel we stepped back or stayed the same. I actually feel we got better," Kotwica told newyorkjets.com back in May. "Being here six years, knowing the majority of the players, that helped a little bit as well. So it was a positive experience for me during that period of time that we got better."
The new ST coordinator also said he's benefited and grown tremendously during his time under Westhoff.
"Every day's been a learning laboratory the past five years under Mike, not only X's-and-O-s-wise but how you deal with players, how you handle the room," Kotwica said. "I think that experience, you can't replace that."
As a unit, the Jets had their share of struggles on special teams in 2012. But from an individual standpoint, Joe McKnight finished third in the NFL in kickoff return average (27.5) and kicker Nick Folk had another solid campaign, going 21-of-27 on field goals, with three of the misses coming on blocked kicks.
"I share full responsibility or equal responsibility in the disappointments and failures that we've experienced this year," Westhoff said back on Dec. 27. "I don't believe that it necessarily typifies or validates what I've done, but I certainly feel those disappointments.
"In some points, there were just some excellent things that took place this year that I was involved in, and then some things that were at the opposite end of the scale. I have not experienced that very often."
Prior to joining the Jets, Kotwica served in Iraq, Bosnia and Korea and earned several awards as a military officer, including an Army Achievement Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, a Meritorious Service Medal and a Bronze Star. He graduated from West Point and was a captain on the winningest team in Army football history.
"Being in front of the group is good," Kotwica said of his spring tour of duty as the Jets' interim ST coordinator. "I think my experience in the military, commanding troops, being in combat environments, being in front of the group to present material and command a room, that's something I'm familiar with."
Westhoff knows it was time for him to step away and he feels Kotwica couldn't be more prepared for the job ahead.
"I've been here for 12 years," Westhoff said. "That's a long time. I think sometimes change is a good thing. We have an excellent guy that will take over for me in Ben Kotwica. He'll do a great job."