New York Jets' Assistant Coaches Must Be Shoulder for Rex to Lean On
Some called it "beginner's luck," while others cited solid experience as an assistant, as well as being surrounded with a talented cast of coordinators in their first year.
I tend to think it's the latter.
For Harbaugh, he had an offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron who already had several years of experience as an assistant, as well as a season as head coach (Miami, 2007).
His defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, was around football his entire life. His father, Buddy, needs no introduction and Rex had worked the previous nine seasons as an assistant for the Ravens, including the last five as defensive coordinator.
The combination of Harbaugh, Ryan, and Cameron helped lead the Ravens all the way to the AFC Championship game last season before they were ousted by the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now Ryan is a head coach himself and will look to lean on an experienced trio of coaches as he adjusts to life as head honcho.
Brian Schottenheimer, Offensive Coordinator
Schottenheimer was hired by Eric Mangini in 2006 to run the Jets' offense and burst onto the scene as a creative and exciting play caller.
He coached a unit that featured multiple formations and motions as well as the occasional "Wildcat" with Brad Smith—essentially implementing the "Wildcat" before it became a household name last season.
Schottenheimer also has experience as a college quarterback with Kansas (1992) and the University of Florida (1993-1996). In his three seasons as Jets' coordinator, his offenses have ranked 25th, 26th, and 16th respectively.
The reason Schottenheimer is so valuable to the staff and head coach Rex Ryan's development is the fact that he's learned under some excellent coaches.
In addition to Cam Cameron, he worked under his father Marty in those coaching stints with Kansas City, Washington, and San Diego. He's already had experience as an assistant with a rookie head coach (Mangini, 2006) and helped lead that team to the playoffs.
As a coordinator, Schottenheimer has experienced both moments of genius and ones of complete failure. He's been the subject of frustration among fans, while at other times he's been praised.
Because he's an experienced coordinator and knows the Jets' personnel he can draw on the successes and failures of the last three seasons to help Ryan develop his offensive philosophy and school him on each player's strengths and weaknesses.
Mike Westhoff, Special Teams Coach
In terms of assistant coaches, is there a better brain to pick than that of Mike Westhoff?
With a combined 27 years of NFL coaching experience, Westhoff is the ultimate shoulder to lean on. Since he took over the Jets' special teams unit in 2001, the team has 11 kickoff returns for touchdowns—good for best in the NFL during that span.
Before joining Gang Green, Westhoff spent 15 years as an assistant with Miami working under Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, and Dave Wandstedt.
Westhoff is widely considered the best special teams coach in the league and will provide Rex Ryan with a luxury not many head coaches can brag about—a unit that can score on any given play.
In 2001, Westhoff directed a group that ranked second in average kickoff drive start (31.2 yard line). The Jets also had two blocked punts returned for touchdowns as he helped rookie head coach Herman Edwards lead the Jets to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
In 2006, his unit helped then rookie head coach Eric Mangini guide the Jets to a playoff appearance with a solid kickoff return unit. The Jets averaged 24.1 yards per return that season (fifth in the NFL) and scored two touchdowns.
Under Edwards and Mangini, Westhoff was always a guy those coaches could bounce ideas off. Anything from going for it on fourth down, to wind direction, and tendencies, there's little Westhoff has not seen.
For those reasons, you cannot underestimate his value to rookie head coach Rex Ryan.
Bill Callahan, Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line
Perhaps the Jets most underrated move of last offseason was the acquisition of former Raiders head coach Bill Callahan.
Callahan, 52, knows a thing or two about being a rookie head coach. In 2002, his first with the Raiders, he led the team to an 11-5 record, an AFC West title, and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Prior to leading the Raiders, he was offensive coordinator for the team from 1999-2001. Callahan also coached the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line from 1995-1997.
Last season he directed an offensive line that finished ninth in the NFL in rushing yards with 2,004. The unit also finished fifth in yards per carry (4.7).
As assistant head coach, Callahan will most likely have his share of input in game planning and in critical situations during the game.
In terms of the offensive line, if Callahan can somehow extract even more from that unit, it will undoubtedly make Rex Ryan's job that much easier.
In fact, I think he'll have to. The line has no choice but to improve, due to the fact that there will be an inexperienced quarterback and one less playmaker at the receiver position (due to Laveranues Coles' departure).
Overall, Rex Ryan is coming into a situation that is setup for him to succeed. He is surrounded by quality assistant coaches with tons of experience, a solid core of players coming off a winning season, and a talented rookie quarterback.
He also has two quality running backs and one of the top special teams units in the league.
With any rookie head coach, there will be some growing pains. However, having those coaches around him will make those pains few and far between, and hopefully translate to lessons through victories rather than through losses.
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