Westhoff given clean bill of health after ninth surgery on cancer-ravaged left leg
NEW YORK -- Mike Westhoff is back running the New York Jets' special teams unit.
The popular and fiery 60-year-old coach stepped aside after last season to have a ninth operation on his left leg, which has been ravaged by bone cancer. After recently getting a clean bill of health, Westhoff was welcomed back Monday to the coaching staff.
"He had to get medical clearance to do that and it's nothing that he ever expected and nothing I ever expected," coach Eric Mangini said. "As tough as Mike is and as committed as he is, he was way ahead on his rehab, so I saw that opportunity and we talked about it and talked it through and he's going to be with us this year. I'm excited about that, too. It's great to have him back."
After Westhoff stepped away -- he refused to say he was retiring -- in December, he and Mangini hired former Chicago Bears assistant Kevin O'Dea to replace him.
"I'm not changing Kevin's title," Mangini said. "I haven't really given Mike any specific title. We can call him whatever we want to call him, I guess, emeritus, guru, whatever you want, but he's going to run the special teams, yes."
Mangini is confident both O'Dea and Westhoff will be able to work together, regardless of titles.
"Kevin understands the situation and is very much excited about the opportunity to work with Mike and has a tremendous amount of respect for Mike as well," Mangini said. "I think the value of having two guys that are as good as they are at what they do is only going to enhance what we're able to do on special teams."
Westhoff, a veteran of 25 NFL seasons, was the Jets' special teams coordinator the past seven years and isn't shy about getting on his players for mistakes or lack of hustle.
"He's one of the best special teams coaches ever," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "Besides special teams, he's one of the better coaches to be around. He's a fun guy and he's a guy that gets the most out of his players."
Mangini said he'll lean on Westhoff to help him with more than just special teams, as he had in the past.
"He's a guy that I can go and talk to with issues that come up, whether they be directly related to game management or personnel decisions or coaching decisions," Mangini said. "Any of those things, he always provides great insight."
A malignant tumor was found in Westhoff's leg in 1988 and he coached all last season using crutches after having a procedure in February 2007. He was on the sideline for all but one Jets game last season.
The bone graft in Westhoff's leg kept fracturing and wasn't healing properly, so the coach underwent a procedure last February to have it replaced with a prosthetic rod from his hip to his knee.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press