Mike Westhoff spent 32 years in the NFL, mainly with the Dolphins, Jets and Saints, as an exceptionally creative and highly effective coach. Now 74 and retired, he joins us to discuss his book Figure It Out. We discuss his decision to retire and pivot to a second career – and his decision to unretire in 2017 to join Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints. But there’s more than football to Mike Westhoff. His book is also a compelling story of resilience and perseverance, battling cancer, enduring multiple highly complex surgeries, and overcoming a series of devastating setbacks. His experiences and observations offer valuable insights for those who are also in the midst of figuring out this phase of life we call retirement.
(And if you love football, as I do, stick around as we chat about some interesting NFL topics.)
Mike Westhoff joins us from Florida.
Simply put, Mike Westhoff is the greatest special teams coach in National Football League history.
Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, said of him: “We called Mike Westhoff the mad scientist. He changed the game.”
Sharp-witted, creative, and intensely focused, Westhoff spent thirty-two years working alongside and learning from some of the legends of the sport—including Don Shula, Dan Marino, Bear Bryant, and Woody Hayes—while revolutionizing the most misunderstood phase of the game.
Over the course of 657 games, primarily with the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins, Westhoff was a relentless innovator—constantly figuring out new ways to help the individual skills of hundreds of players surface and develop.
But his story isn’t just about football. Mike Westhoff also has waged multiple battles with cancer. In his new book Figure It Out, he presents his one-of-a-kind experiences and unfiltered views in his trademark style—a refreshing blend of honest (sometimes brutally so), funny, and poignant. His deep insights into the workings of special teams—illustrated by 27 detailed original diagrams—and timely commentary on the current state of pro football reveal a critical side of the sport that very few truly understand.
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“One of the things I learned, and I learned this from Dr. Mankin: don’t let the illness define who you are, fight through it. You’re still the same person. You may not look perfect. You sure don’t feel perfect. You know you’re not, but you’re still the same. Go out to dinner, just go. You don’t look great, but just go. All of a sudden I couldn’t walk the way I had to, and I had to wear a big leg brace, and I had to use a cane. And so, here I’m coaching in the National Football League with a cane. And I was a guy that when I first started, I could throw the receiver drills at the Combine, and now I’m walking around with a cane, like some old grouch. But what I realized is that, okay, I have a cane, but I can do this job better than anybody ever did it. And that was my goal. And that’s the only goal I ever had.”
On His Decision to Unretire and Jump Back into the Fray
“That part with the New Orleans Saints takes on a separate meaning for me. I did not want to go to the New Orleans Saints. I didn’t know anybody. I got a call from a guy that I knew that asked about the New Orleans Saints wanting to talk about coming back to work. I said, no, I’ve got a TV show tomorrow. I’m done. So, and make a long story short, I agreed to talk with Sean Payton, who I had tremendous respect for, but I had never met him. I never said hello to him in my life. I knew who Drew Brees was, but I didn’t know one person in the building. I didn’t know anybody. Okay, so I talked with him, and he said: look, we’re really a good football team, but this part of our game, it’s just not clicking. Can you help? We need you to see if you can put it together. I said: Well, you can’t fire anybody. If you fire someone, I won’t come. He said, Okay, I’m not gonna fire anyone. I’m not going to do that, but you’re going to have to run the whole thing. So the next thing I know, two days later, I’m on a plane going to New Orleans, and I’m going to coach practice before a game with the Atlanta Falcons on a Wednesday afternoon. And I didn’t know one player.”
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Joe is the author of Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy launching on August 9th.
Intro and Outro voiceovers by Ross Huguet.