The New York Jets pulled off the big upset of the NFL playoffs this past weekend by going on the road and beating the San Diego Chargers, 20-14. New York’s defense, which ranked number one in the NFL during the regular season, largely held the high-powered San Diego offense in check.
It turns out that defense has a strong connection to the United States Military Academy.
Two Jet defensive coaches were part of Army football in the 1990s — one as a coach and one as a star player. Bob Sutton, the Jets senior defensive assistant/linebackers, was the head coach at Army from 1991- 1999. A few years ago while serving as defensive coordinator for the Jets, Sutton hired Ben Kotwica, a three-year starter at linebacker for West Point before graduating and being commissioned as on officer in 1997.
Kotwica served as an Apache pilot after he left West Point, and earned the Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq War. In an Associated Press story last year, Kotwica recalled some of his more hairy experiences in Iraq:
“We got shot at and our helicopter got hit on occasion,” he recalled. “Yeah, you would fly through the skies of Baghdad at night and you’d see some tracer rounds out there and they kind of looked like fireflies and you’d be going, ‘OK, turn right. OK, go the other way.’ “
Kotwica left the service in 2005 to pursue his dream of becoming an NFL coach. He first coaching gig was at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School. In 2005, he joined Sutton’s defensive staff in New York.
Sutton has been with the Jets in one capacity or another since getting fired by Army in 1999. For three years prior to the hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach, Sutton was the Jets’ defensive coordinator. Ryan brought his own defensive coordinator with him from Baltimore, but interviewed Sutton and decided to keep him on the staff.
Sutton’s peak at West Point came in 1996, when he coached the Black Knights to a 10-2 record and the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The Black Knights lost to Auburn in the Independence Bowl at the end of that season — they have yet to return to a bowl game. During Sutton’s tenure Army went 44-55-1, and he had a 6-3 record against Navy.