This past season was unlike anything Mike Westhoff had done in his football career. And yet, as sometimes happens, it was simultaneously very much like what he used to do as the Jets' iconic special teams coordinator.
Westhoff explained this seeming paradox to me at Jets House in midtown Manhattan early this afternoon.
"It was different, that's for sure," Westhoff said of his analyst gigs with ESPN New York 98.7 and SNY television, which often involved critiquing his team of the previous 12 seasons and his head coach of the previous four seasons, Rex Ryan. "But it's really not difficult, because I try to be very fair. I'm not critical of individuals, I'm not a wise guy, and I like these guys that I work with.
"Yet at the same time in the role that I have, I look at it as being an umpire. If it's a strike and it's in the zone, I'm going to call it. If it's not, I'm going to talk about it. But it's not necessarily just criticizing a guy that didn't do something. There's so many factors involved and I'm trying to look at all of them: This was a mistake, or maybe they didn't do this well, or this is something they want to improve on. So that's how I approached it and looked at it that way."
Jets fans in general have always appreciated Coach Westy's honest commentary and liked it just as much this year as he switched to his TV/radio analyst's hat. What some fans expressed, even in the crowd at today's day session at Jets House, is for Westhoff to return to the sidelines, especially now that Ben Kotwica, who stepped into Mike's shoes as ST coordinator last year, has left for Dan Snyder's greener pastures in Washington.
"It wasn't like Ben was looking to leave the Jets or the Jets were looking to not have him back," Westhoff said. "For Ben sometimes there were some difficult circumstances. As it evolved, his contract was up, he was looking for what was going to happen to him, the Jets came back and did make an offer, but the Redskins were also on the table and he chose the one that was most advantageous for him and his family."
But Westhoff chuckled when I asked him if he'd consider un-retiring as a coach.
"No, no, I'm not," he said. "I talked with Rex more in regard with how can I help him fill the position and help make him sure it's on track. I told him I'd be happy to do that. But other than that, I like what I'm doing. I believe I'm in the right place for my life, and would be a better help to him in that regard."
No, Mike is now a media man, a straight-shooting umpire who calls them as he sees them. That was no clearer than in my last question to him today, the opening or closing question to every football expert at this time of year: Who's going to win the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Westhoff as always had great and unique analysis, sounding much like the teacher he was in his 30 years of standing in front of NFL special teams meetings, all of which led to a pretty eye-opening conclusion.
"It's pretty complex why, but I'll give you the short version. I think there's a recipe for stopping Seattle's offense — the St. Louis Rams," he started out, referring to the Seahawks being held to four offensive TDs combined in their 14-9 and 27-9 wins over the Rams this season. "So I think Denver's defense will do that. If Denver gets ahead, which I think they can, the pressure that will put on Russell Wilson I think is going to be a little bit tough for him to overcome.
"I also like the matchup of Denver's five receivers — five weapons that finished in the top 25 in the AFC — going against Seattle. Somebody is going to be 1-on-1 and have an advantage. Now I think Seattle will try to play them with a combination of man to man and a safety over the top and a safety underneath. But Peyton will still see that open guy and will make the proper play."
Therefore, said Prof. Westhoff, "I'm going to go with Denver. And normally I would never say this, but I wouldn't be surprised if they beat Seattle pretty good."