Jets' Schottenheimer was well-schooled at Florida

Published: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 4:42 p.m.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Brian Schottenheimer took a deep breath, gathered his thoughts, and let out a smile. You could tell this wasn't the normal press-conference question. You could tell that — after a week of tireless preparation for the San Diego Chargers in the biggest game of his coaching life, after a week of speculation about will he or won't he interview with the Buffalo Bills — Schottenheimer knew he could relax ... if only for 30 seconds.


Story Time With Spurrier

Leave it to former Florida coach Steve Spurrier to remember — like it was yesterday — the first half of a 1996 game against Southwestern Louisiana, a school that doesn't even go by that name anymore.

But Spurrier, the South Carolina coach, couldn't help himself when talking about Brian Schottenheimer, the former Gator backup quarterback who is now the offensive coordinator with the Jets. When asked about Schottenheimer's days in Gainesville, Opening Day of the 1996 national-championship season came to the Head Ball Coach's mind:

“You want to talk about Young Schotty? Yeah, we called him Young Schotty at Florida. He came in as a walk-on, and earned himself a scholarship.

“What I always remember, and always tell people, was that in 1996, Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy for us. But who threw our first touchdown pass of the season? Young Schotty did.

“Anyhow, we had a lot of guys who came in with a lot of hype that season, and we opened the year in Gainesville against Southwestern Louisiana (It's now called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette).

“Turns out, we were playing like crap right off the bat. So I sat Danny, and a bunch of other guys. I told Brian to get in there, and get us going. Fortunately, I left Ike Hilliard in the game, and — wouldn't you know it — Brian hit Ike on a hitch for 35 yards and a touchdown. A few series later, I put the starters back in, and Danny back in, and away we went. But I always tell people, Young Schotty started us off.

“A Heisman Trophy season for Danny. A championship season for us. And it was Young Schotty who threw the first touchdown of the season for us. I'll never forget that.”

Neither will Schottenheimer.

— Tim Sullivan

Why? Because this question was easy. This question allowed him to drift back to less-hectic days in Gainesville, when Schottenheimer was a backup quarterback at the University of Florida:

“What did you learn from Steve Spurrier?”

“A lot,” said Schottenheimer, who as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, has quickly become the “it” assistant coach in the NFL in just four seasons. “The thing from Steve was the flexibility an offense has to have. I thought he was just a great play-caller on game day.”

Schottenheimer, 36, isn't so bad himself in that regard. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals. In a seven-day span, the former Gator orchestrated two different game plans that resulted in two different wins against the Bengals.

On Jan. 3, in the regular-season finale, he went with the power and precision of his running game, as the Jets whacked the Bengals, 37-0, to clinch a playoff berth. On Jan. 9, in the AFC wild-card round, he used his rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, and a short passing game to again handle the Bengals, 24-14.

“He has become a lot better of a coordinator now that Mark Sanchez hasn't been throwing all those interceptions anymore,” Spurrier joked. “Sometimes, it takes awhile to get the message across to a young quarterback. But it's clear that young Brian developed a good relationship there with Sanchez and you see the results.”

Schottenheimer and Sanchez figure to have a tougher challenge Sunday in San Diego. The Chargers (13-3), who play host to the Jets (10-7) in the divisional round at 4:40 p.m., have won 11 in a row and are faster and more complete on defense than the Bengals.

"We're at our best right now and the Chargers are at their best," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan, whose defense finished tops in the league this season. "It makes for a great matchup."

But, believe it or not, that “matchup” wasn't the biggest midweek storyline in New York. No, the game took a backseat to Schottenheimer, who declined an interview with the Bills on Wednesday. After interviewing for — and losing out on — head-coaching jobs the last two years with the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, and the Jets — a position that Ryan eventually won — Schottenheimer passed on his only shot this year.

“I was flattered. I really was. I have a lot of respect for the Bills organization,” Schottenheimer said. “It's not about the Buffalo Bills. It's about the New York Jets and how I feel about this organization and the way I see the direction of this team going under Rex. At the end of the day, I feel good about the decision.”

As does his mentor.

“In the coaching profession, there are good moves and bad moves,” Spurrier said. “And he's really in the ideal situation up there. Aren't the Jets the No. 1 defensive team in the NFL? Well, there you go. As an offensive coordinator, that is a dream come true. I think he'll stay with the Jets for awhile.”

Which is just fine by Schottenheimer's father, Marty, who spent 21 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and Chargers.

"He's been around it his whole life," said Marty, who agreed a head-coaching position is just a matter of time. "It's not something foreign to him in any fashion. I think he's been around — and I'm not referring to myself — some pretty good coaches. He's always been very, very eager to learn and understand what it is that's being done, why it's being done, and probably most importantly, how it's being done."

And that's not something that started in the NFL. Schottenheimer was the same way in Gainesville.

"He got quite an education there," said his father, who was quick to point out Spurrier as one of his son's influences. "Steve let him call some of the plays during games."

Brian remembers. How can he forget? Those Fun N' Gun days, after all, helped him get where he is today.

“We'd always go in with plans and people would change against us because we were so powerful, we obviously had so many great players,” Schottenheimer said. “The flexibility and the way Steve adjusted on game day is something I took from him. The system was very simple and we were very good at executing back then. The way he kept people off balance was really, really good.”

Off balance, huh? Sounds a lot like the condition the Bengals were in the past two weeks.

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