Most mornings for more than two pandemic-filled years, Mike Westhoff woke up early, had breakfast, and then at 7 a.m. sat down on his bed with a pen and yellow legal pad to do something he never had. He used to write for hours every day.
He wrote about listening with Bill Belichick, a youth assistant for the New York Giants, as Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight taught footwork. He wrote about having a chair reserved only for Don Shula’s Wednesday night meeting in his Miami Dolphins office.
“what did you get?” Shula will ask to present his special teams plan for Westhof.
Westhoff wrote about coaching on a team with quarterback Dan Marino (“Experience of a Lifetime”), wrote about how the New York Jets didn’t use Tim Tebow as planned (a “disgrace and a mess”) and wrote That’s how friendship with Dolphins executive Bill Parcells ended when Parcells sent a letter to the league accusing Westhoff of violating league rules by going to Dolphins practice in retirement and then rejoining the Jets the following week. Gone.
Westhoff wrote, “With a pathetic, hen-letter, he destroyed what I believed was a great relationship.”
Westhoff was always surprisingly open and opinionated as a special team coach, and he is no different in this book, “Figure It Out: My Thirty-Two Year Journey While Revolutionizing Pro Football’s Special Teams.” He says that Jets (and later Dolphins) general manager Mike Tannenbaum took him “from a championship-level team to a bulls-operation”, with decisions such as dropping Westhoff from the 2012 draft process.
Westhoff prides itself on coaching creative special teams before today’s restrictive rules and by helping them discover talent for them. Take rookie Bernie Parmali. Shula cut him out in 1992. Paperwork was to be filed the next day at 1 pm
Westhoff asked Parmali to come the next morning to practice. He asked Reggie Robbie to drive a line to guarantee a return. Westhoff said, “Parmali made a tackle that “looked like an explosion,” and he played in the NFL for nine years.
These are the stories Westhoff tells with himself at the center. He always had a healthy ego. When Jimmy Johnson retired from the Dolphins after the 1999 season, Westhoff discussed succession planning with owner H. Wayne Huizenga in an empty team cafeteria.
Westhoff will be the head coach. Merino will play. Indianapolis assistant Jean Huey will bring a shotgun offense created for sculptor Peyton Manning to the help of a stable Merino.
“Dan could have played two more years at Shotgun,” Westhoff said.
Huizenga chose Dave Vanstead. Westhoff left for the Jets a year before Sean Peyton ended his career with the New Orleans Saints. So his book is a football journey. even more.
“The biggest battle of my life,” he titled a chapter that began in 1988 at age 40 with surgery for back and leg pain. His iliac artery was accidentally cut in the surgery. He started bleeding on the surgical table.
“They cut me off and put a tube in my heart, pumping blood into the main artery to keep me alive,” he said.
A doctor entered the room, performed surgery and saved Westhoff’s life. This did not resolve the back and leg pain, which was diagnosed as an egg-shaped, cancerous tumor in his leg.
Thus began another chapter in his life – and his book. He went to Boston, where a new procedure meant his leg was not amputated but made with two metal plates, 25 screws and 60 staples.
He underwent chemotherapy, coached the dolphins and threw them on the far side of the field. He lost the hair, the weight – everything but hope. Some thought football lost its sight in that fight.
“Coaching saved me,” he says. “Coach Shula did not see me as a cancer survivor. He made me see who I could be again. He treated me as if I was not sick. It allowed me to see myself that way too. ,
Westhoff began with few rules for special teams in the NFL, up to the point that the goal of his punt teams was to block an opponent at the Gatorade table. As he once told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, his career kickoff and punts were nearly kicked out of the game.
“Mike, you’re the last person who can complain, because they’re changing because of you,” Goodell said.
He laughs, his career is done, his pen down, his opinion still strong. He participated in dolphin minicamp exercise in June. his thoughts?
“I wasn’t overly impressed,” he said. “They have a long way to go.”
As their title says, “Figure It Out.”