FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- He has a bigger and stronger voice now, a more distinct one on how the Jets will play it, how this offense under constant construction in recent seasons can become more frank. And that gives Brian Schottenheimer effervescent energy.
Somewhere between Eric Mangini's firing as Jets head coach and Schottenheimer's denial for the job and Rex Ryan's hiring, Schottenheimer has re-tooled his thinking and amped his approach and found a nook that every NFL offensive coordinator seeks. And he believes his fourth season in this role for the Jets can be unlike the other three, a more original reflection of his approach, his voice.
"When you think about the fact we had Chad (Pennington) at quarterback in the first season here in 2006, then Chad was hurt and we went with Kellen (Clemens) on the fly in 2007, then Brett Favre coming in last year late, we've basically had three different offenses," Schottenheimer said. "When I interviewed and didn't get the head job here, sure, that was tough, and it made it a situation where I didn't know if I'd be here at all. But Rex comes in, and he was in the same situation last year in Baltimore when he didn't get the head job. We're both coach's sons, so that was common. I called around for a day before we met and talked to 12 people trying to get someone to say something bad about Rex. I couldn't find it. All you wanted to hear in that meeting we had was you can be a part of it, be you and do what you do. After 10 minutes, it was, let's go. I have only been around him a couple of months, but I love the guy.
"You look for freedom in your job. Rex said from Day 1 here's what I want to include, but go. That is something, when someone gives you that type of responsibility, I take it with great pride. He is the head coach. It's his football team. But he truly has given me his blessings to lead this group more."
And so he will, using a portfolio that at age 35 starts with one of the most respected head coaches by his peers in league history, his father, Marty, all the way up to Mangini, who gave him his first shot at offensive coordinator. Schottehemer's mentors are plenty after pro coaching stops in St. Louis and Kansas City, college ones at Syracuse and USC before back to the pros at Washington, San Diego and the Jets.
It was Giants coach Tom Coughlin who told him in 1999 that "until you're in your own room, you don't know what coaching is all about." Coughlin meant coaching your own people, your own group, meeting with and disciplining that group, preparing it and being accountable for it. That happened for Schottenheimer at Syracuse when he coached wide receivers there in '99. Paul Pasqualoni was head coach. Now, Schottenheimer faces him twice a year, matching wits, since Pasqualoni is the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator.
Schottenheimer was a quarterback at Kansas when he decided after his freshman season that he was not good enough to have a pro playing career but could become good enough to have a pro coaching one. He visited seven colleges in five days with his mother, Pat, and selected Florida and coach Steve Spurrier. The 12-1 Gators would win the national championship in 1997 with Danny Wuerffel at quarterback.
"Steve was playing wide open, empty sets, flexible," Schottenheimer said. "He treated me like I was an extra coach. He let me signal in the offense. It was like a backstage pass for the greatest show in college football at that point. I studied the way he attacked coverages. How he fit his personnel groupings to get the ball to people."
He took notes. Lots of them, all along the way. It is a joke with his players now, because he often tells them "Write this down!" when instructing them in meetings. Schottenheimer takes the blame for the Jets' 2008 offense that was part of an 8-3 start but fizzled into a 1-4 finish, including a regular-season finale loss at home to Miami that crushed playoff hopes.
"I have to take responsibility for that," he said. "We didn't adjust as coaches. We weren't very consistent. We didn't execute well. We weren't as good on third downs. We had ball-security issues. Also, this business is about momentum. We had it, we were riding high. And once it started to go down, we had a hard time getting it back."
He has never complained that Favre was thrown into his lap late after Schottenheimer had spent an offseason building the offense to play in another fashion. He has never said that the adjustment for Favre and all involved was huge, that Favre was a West Coast quarterback entering a shifting, motion, multiple offense. He has never admitted that a coach in his third season as offensive coordinator has little chance of doing it more his way and more of what he believes in when hitched with the veteran, big personality that is Favre.
But we can say it, because it is true.
Now comes a new Schottenheimer voice. A bigger, stronger more distinct one.
He wants balance. To be able to run the ball when teams know it is coming and pass it when they know it is coming. He wants to be multiple in formations and shifts and approach. He will feature what his players do well, something every offensive player asks of his coordinator: Does he know what I do well? Is he going to feature that? Schottenheimer gets that.
He is a play-caller who looks at the huddle from the sideline and decides "I want to get the ball to this player." And he makes his calls, in part, based on that. He will give his quarterbacks some flexibility, but "you might see a stare every now and then when the ball is not going where we want it."
Here are his views on:
Running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington missing recent voluntary workouts due to contract issues: "The thing we know as coaches is those guys know the system. We also know this is May and this is voluntary, so you move on. That means other people are getting lots of reps. It means we get to evaluate other players more and see their positives. A focus in coaching is to get the guys who are here in the building better today than they were the day before."
On whether the quarterback competition between Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez is really a competition: "People do not realize the fire in Kellen Clemens' heart and soul. He has said all the right things. He totally feels this is his team. We brought Philip Rivers into San Diego to replace Drew Brees, and Rivers sat for two years. Kellen has really grown as a player. When you look into his eyes, there is something different now. It says don't be too quick to count out Kellen Clemens, and we won't. It will be a competition."
On the Jets lacking a true deep threat or No. 1 wide receiver: "I do not look at it that way. Teams that do well in this league replace players. Jerricho Cotchery is a No. 1 receiver in this league. His numbers say so. It is time he got that opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver. We've got good receivers who are developing and getting better. Brad Smith. Chansi Stuckey. David Clowney. Henry Ellard is coaching those guys well. I feel very comfortable with the guys we have there. But we all know that NFL rosters are liquid."
Former longtime NFL coach Dan Reeves has watched the rise and maturation of Schottenheimer and sees a future NFL head coach.
"Impressive, great job working with his people and maturity beyond his years," Reeves said. "He reminds me of when I was a rookie coach in Dallas and was coaching a lot of guys older than me. He makes sense. He is sold on what he believes in. He is flexible with his system. He does not try to blow smoke up your rear. I like that."
Schottenheimer has a new voice. A bigger, stronger, more distinct one.
But there was a time not long ago when he wondered if he would, literally, have one at all.
"Out of the blue one morning in 2004 when I was coaching in San Diego, I woke up with a pain in my throat," he said. "I got it checked. There was a bump in my throat. It tested positive for thyroid cancer. The doctors said it was a very slow growing cancer and I could wait until after the season to have surgery. I wasn't going to wait. We got in touch with (Washington Redskins owner) Dan Snyder, who had experienced something similar, and he graciously got us in touch with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Four days after finding out, I had surgery. And that Friday that followed, I was at work for our preseason game against Indy. They took my thyroid completely out. I had 17 lymph nodes removed. I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. But I am fine.
"I was most concerned about my voice. A coach needs to be able to talk. I didn't lose my voice."
No, in a fascinating way, he is just finding it.