FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) -Mike Westhoff was in a hospital bed a few months ago, a titanium rod inserted into his left leg and unsure when he'd be able to walk - let alone coach again.
``It's really complex carpentry inside my leg,'' he said. ``If you saw the X-rays, you wouldn't believe it.''
The New York Jets' special teams guru has been back with the team for a few weeks, walking with a cane after an innovative ninth operation on the leg but barking out orders with the same intensity that's made him a favorite of his players.
``It's incredible,'' Westhoff said Wednesday in his first public comments since rejoining the coaching staff Sept. 1. ``It's mended together. Best thing I've ever done, smartest move I've ever made in my life. It changed my whole life.''
The 60-year-old Westhoff, a veteran of 25 NFL seasons and the Jets' special teams coordinator the past seven years, stepped aside after last season to have the procedure that would require months of rehabilitation.
1988 and he has needed several operations on it since. He coached all last season using crutches after having a procedure in February 2007 that inserted a bone graft from a cadaver, but it kept fracturing and wasn't healing properly.
``So we made a decision to radically repair the whole thing,'' said Westhoff, who's been cancer-free for over 20 years. ``So (the doctor) did it with a three-piece titanium prosthesis, which is pretty radical surgery for someone my age.''
Under the care of Dr. John Healey - ``a genius surgeon,'' according to Westhoff - at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the coach underwent a nearly 10-hour operation on Feb. 20 that replaced most of his left femur.
Westhoff said he lost ``a great deal of blood'' during the procedure, but was released after just six days. He said Healey told him he would need nine months to a year to completely recover, but was back in just over six months.
``You have a lot of respect for him because you see how hard he fights,'' long snapper James Dearth said. ``He fought back from this and recovered really quickly. For him to be able to fight back from that is just amazing. You have to have a lot of respect for that. And you know what? He belongs here.''
Westhoff has been seen during the last several years wearing braces or using canes and even crutches.
lk almost perfectly normally. I won't use the cane shortly and I hope next winter to go back to playing golf.''
The only drawback has been the attention he gets going through airport metal detectors.
``I've set it off,'' he said with a smile. ``I don't care. One small inconvenience.''
After the Jets' last game last season, Westhoff announced he was stepping away, but not retiring. Because of the complex nature of the procedure, Westhoff told coach Eric Mangini that he wouldn't be able to fulfill all of his coaching duties through the winter.
The team granted Westhoff what amounted to a medical leave of absence and hired former Chicago Bears assistant Kevin O'Dea to replace him. When Westhoff was given a clean bill of health before the season opener, the team welcomed him back with open arms.
``The doctor made it very clear to me that if I wasn't at a certain point, it didn't matter if President Bush called, I wasn't going to go back,'' Westhoff said. ``Fortunately, I was to that point, and he agreed.''
That created what might have been perceived as an awkward situation having both Westhoff and O'Dea on the staff. Mangini didn't remove O'Dea's title, and instead called Westhoff the special teams ``emeritus, guru, whatever you want.''
f said of O'Dea. ``It's probably a little easier from my perspective than his, but I've enjoyed it.''
Regardless of titles, it's clear that Westhoff runs the special teams unit. He's constantly reprimanding his unit, with a few choice words usually sprinkled in.
``Yeah, he's broken a few canes out there,'' Mangini said. ``It's never a function of him yelling for the sake of yelling. He's not pushing guys because he wants to show that he's in charge. He's pushing guys because he wants them to be successful, and there's a very clear distinction there.''
Now that he's back, Westhoff is literally a walking inspiration to many of his players.
``If they see it that way, that's fine,'' he said. ``I don't look at it that way personally because I've seen people have things a lot worse than me. I'm just very fortunate.
``But, yeah,'' he added with a laugh, ``I guess they don't have any more scars than I have.''
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