NEW YORK — Mike Westhoff has at all times been blunt and brutally honest. He pulls no punches and sugarcoats nothing.
And the best way he sees it, he might be no other way.
He’s a cancer survivor who has multiple times beaten long odds. He’s an innovator who established himself over 32 NFL seasons as arguably the sport’s biggest special teams coach. He has been a relentless fighter and constant achiever his entire life. And he’s at all times confident — although some might suggest cocky or boastful.
“I do not consider myself a author,” Westhoff said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I mean, I’m not Ernest Hemingway. But I at all times thought I had a great story to inform.”
So the 74-year-old Westhoff did just that in writing “Figure It Out,” an entertaining autobiography published by Mascot Books that is every little thing anyone he coached with or against, played for or against, or covered him within the media would expect. There are many chuckles, eyebrow-raising comments and inspirational lessons shared.
And it’s told in Westhoff’s refreshingly candid words, with colourful anecdotes mixed in from several dozen others who know him best — from his humble beginnings growing up within the Pittsburgh area to his multiple college stops as a player and coach to his years with the Colts, Dolphins, Jets and Saints.
“Though I might be somewhat bit difficult, I feel I’m pretty respectful and I do know I’m very respectful to the sport since it means so much to me,” Westhoff said. “I’m not trying to simply write a book and be silly. But come on, in case you’re going to inform a story, you are going to be honest, you recognize? What people never quite got was that I used to be 10 times more hard and significant on myself than I ever was on anyone else: player, coach, anybody.
“I mean, unless they were really just silly — which a few of them were.”
Throughout the two-year writing process, Westhoff would put his thoughts on paper after which ask his girlfriend to have a look — especially when he was being critical of somebody. He didn’t wish to go too far excessive, even for him.
“She called herself the ‘dial-down instructor’ because I’d call her and she or he would say, ‘Mike, it’s good to dial that down somewhat bit,'” Westhoff said with amusing. “So I’d rethink it. I’d say, ‘OK, let me scratch that out. Let me rephrase that somewhat bit,’ and that is type of the way it worked.”
Contained in the book’s greater than 400 breezy pages, Westhoff details how coaches resembling Lee Corso, Woody Hayes, Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula helped shape his approach on the sphere. Westhoff discusses the inner workings of special teams, including detailed diagrams of plays, and the way his philosophies modified that aspect of the sport.
“We hold a lot of the records,” Westhoff said. “We were pretty rattling good at what we did.”
He also devotes a portion of the book to his “All-Star Special Teamers” — all players he coached. They include kicker Olindo Mare, punter Thomas Morstead, long snapper James Dearth, returners Leon Washington and O.J. McDuffie, and special teams standouts resembling Zach Thomas, Larry Izzo, Louis Oliver, Bernie Parmalee, Kenyatta Wright, Brad Smith, Eric Smith and Taysom Hill.
“There are guys who played for me thanking me and talking about how I modified their lives,” Westhoff said. “It’s the best thing ever.”
On the flip side, Westhoff also calls out a few of his least favorite coaches and players. That features one coach he refused to say within the book by name. With somewhat little bit of research, readers could, well, figure it out.
“I can not stand him,” Westhoff said, “because he was the stupidest (guy) I used to be ever around.”
There are many other football-related tales, including Westhoff’s first college practice as a player at Wyoming coming immediately after he stepped off a bus following a 36-hour ride. How he turned special teams into his specialty can also be in there. Plus his bemoaning never getting a probability as an NFL head coach; the deterioration of his once good friendship with Bill Parcells; the Jets’ failed Tim Tebow experiment; and coming close but never coaching in a Super Bowl.
“I used to be a man in a fantastic place at the proper time and made probably the most of it,” Westhoff said. “So I’m pleased with how the book’s come out. It has been fun and I feel people will enjoy it.”
Westhoff’s football journey is definitely a study in perseverance. But his battles with bone cancer, the cutting-edge procedures he endured and learning to walk again with a titanium rod in his left leg make it much more remarkable.
He opens “Figure It Out” — a nod to his never-give-up approach — with a touching recollection of the moment while completing a chemotherapy treatment on July 3, 1988, he made a promise to himself that guided him the remainder of his coaching profession.
Because the national anthem played outside his hospital room window and fireworks brightened the sky during a pre-July Fourth celebration, a reflective and appreciative Westhoff devoted himself to doing his job higher than anyone else — ever.
“Did I do this? I do not know. I got here pretty darn close,” he said. “That is how I have a look at it. Every Sunday, 657 times, that is exactly what I did.”
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