ASHBURN Ben Kotwica spent eight years in the Army, serving in Bosnia, Korea and finally Iraq, where he piloted an Apache helicopter and escorted former President George W. Bush.
Now he’s taking those experiences to the world of football. He’s been hired as the special teams coordinator for the Washington Redskins, where he’ll work to improve a unit that was one of the worst in the NFL last year.
Football is full of military terminology and parallels, and that’s something Kotwica embraces.
“I think that football does resonate with soldiers,” he said. “I think there’s a little bit of a parallel there that soldiers gravitate to, and it’s just a great game to be a part of.”
Kotwica (pronounced Cot-WEE-kah) said many of the same principles he leaned on when organizing troops apply when organizing football players.
“I would suggest to you that one of the most important lessons is that you can have a plan going in, you can have an operational order, but the enemy’s got a vote,” he said. “You’ve got to have the ability to make adjustments. Because you’ve got a plan going in that might work, but again, the enemy’s got a vote. Whether it’s in the desert of Iraq or the football field on Sunday, you’ve got to have the ability to make adjustments and instill confidence in your soldiers or players that the job is going to get done.”
Military service and football have long been intertwined in Kotwica’s life.
The 39-year-old attended West Point and was a three-year starter at linebacker for Army, where he was the captain of the only 10-win team in school history.
After a year as a graduate assistant, he entered active duty and flew more than 1,000 combat hours in the Apache.
When he returned to civilian life, then-Army coach Bobby Ross hired him as a coach, launching his career.
From there, he went to the New York Jets, where over a seven-year span he rose from the lowest staff position, quality control, to special teams coordinator. The Redskins hired him away this offseason to serve in the same coordinator role.
He has the full support of Washington coach Jay Gruden, who joked that he’s “intimidated” by Kotwica.
One of the changes on the unit has been that assistant coaches help out during special teams drills.
“It’s very important for our assistant coaches to get involved to break up the periods so we can be more of an individual-type teaching process and better utilize our time, instead of having 22 guys out there standing around during one specific drill,” Gruden said. “We’re able to break it up, and Ben does an outstanding job of utilizing everybody and getting the most out of his 10-15-minute allotments.”
The Redskins are in the middle of the NFL’s mandated break period before training camp begins. The next workout Kotwica conducts will be on July 24, at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond.
Kotwica said almost every player on the roster, from the backups to DeSean Jackson, will have a role on special teams this season.
“I think if you look across the board, the teams that are successful are the ones who internalize special teams and use the whole roster,” he said.
Planning runs in his blood, as he switches from organizing troops to organizing football players.