Four current and former NFL coaches are currently travelling on a NFL-USO Coaches Tour. Former NFL coach and current CBS Sports analyst Bill Cowher; New York Jets Assistant Special Teams Coach Ben Kotwica, an Army veteran; Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier; and former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Eric Mangini are meeting with members of the U.S. military forseveral days in the Persian Gulf and will celebrate the Fourth of July with the troops.
The NFL and USO have organized overseas morale-building visits for 46 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia to demonstrate the league’s support for America’s troops.
In the past four decades, NFL stars including Terry Bradshaw, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, Howie Long,Don Meredith, Lynn Swann and Johnny Unitas have visited service members on NFL-USO tours in locations such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Somalia. In 2008, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined players on a USO trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the third annual NFL-USO Coaches Tour. In recent years, coaches including Tom Coughlin, John Fox, John Harbaugh, Gary Kubiak, Marvin Lewis, Andy Reid,and Ken Wisenhunt took part in the tour.
Coaches participating in this year’s NFL-USO Coaches Tour:
This will be Cowher’s second trip on an NFL-USO Coaches Tour. He participated in the inaugural Coaches Tour in 2009.
Cowher spent 15 seasons as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he amassed 149 regular season wins highlighted by a victory in Super Bowl XL. Cowher led the Steelers to eight division titles and 10 playoff appearances during his tenure in Pittsburgh and his 12 postseason victories are the seventh most in NFL history. Cowher also tied legendary NFL coach Paul Brown by guiding the Steelers to the playoffs in his first six seasons as head coach. Cowher now serves as a NFL studio analyst for CBS.
A native of Crafton, PA, Cowher was a linebacker and special teams standout for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns before moving into the coaching ranks. Cowher’s father served in the Air Force from 1940-1945.
“This is my second trip to visit the troops and I am really excited to spend time with the men and women who protect our freedom each and every day,” said Cowher. “Anything I can do to brighten their day and show my appreciation is a huge honor for me.”
Leslie Frazier Minnesota Vikings:
Frazier enters his 20th season in the NFL in 2012, spending 14 in the coaching ranks following a six-year playing career. Frazier is among elite company in the NFL, having won Super Bowl titles as a player and coach. He was a key member of the vaunted 1985 Bears defense that won Super Bowl XX and in 2006 served on the Indianapolis staff that won Super Bowl XLI over his old Chicago team. In his 1st full season leading the Vikings in 2011, the club led the NFL with 50 sacks, featured DE Jared Allen breaking the franchise record with 22 sacks in the season and had a promising rookie class help lay the foundation for a bright future. The team enters 2012 with a talented core that has five players who have earned Pro Bowl berths during their careers—Allen, DT Kevin Williams, LB Chad Greenway, RB Adrian Peterson and WR Percy Harvin.
“Giving back to veterans and active service members is the least we can do as Americans,” said Frazier. “We are able to live free and raise our families safely because of the sacrifices these brave men and women make every day.”
Ben Kotwica, New York Jets:
Kotwica will begin his sixth season with the New York Jets as assistant special teams coach. Since he started working with the special teams in 2007, the Jets have returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns, the most scored on special teams in the NFL during that time span. Under his tutelage, kick returner Leon Washington made the Pro Bowl in 2008 after finishing sixth in the AFC in kick return average.
A decorated officer, Kotwica spent seven years in the Army after graduating from West Point, where he was a three-year starter at linebacker and captain of the winningest football team in Army history (1996).
In 2004, Kotwica was sent to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, serving as a combat attack helicopter commander and flying more than 1,000 combat hours. He also spent time in Bosnia and Korea. During his Army career, Kotwica earned the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Bronze Star.
“I’m just really grateful that I was asked to be part of their wonderful experience in giving back to the soldiers,” Kotwica said. “I know how special it is, as a former officer and soldier myself, when people from the NFL and the USO come over to support the troops. I consider myself lucky to have this opportunity.”
Mangini, now an ESPN analyst, was a NFL head coach for five seasons with the New York Jets (2006-08) and Cleveland Browns (2009-10). In his first season with the Jets, Mangini led the team to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth, a big turnaround from the team’s 4-12 record the previous year. The Jets also posted a 9-7 record under Mangini in 2007, a season in which Mangini coached Brett Favre after the future Hall of Famer was acquired in the well-publicized trade from the Green Bay Packers. Mangini is also a three-time Super Bowl-winning assistant coach with the New England Patriots.
As a NFL head coach, Mangini often invited military groups to attend minicamp and training camp practices. He sent a group of Jets to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to spend time with soldiers and develop leadership skills. The players were also able to spend time with Wounded Warriors and tour their performance enhancement center, which focuses on mental training. The Jets then hosted a group from Fort Bragg at the team facility in New York where soldiers were treated like members of the squad, attending meetings, OTA practices, and even helping with drills. Some soldiers addressed the team and participated in a team-building event as part of the experience. In Cleveland, Mangini hosted a similar event when a contingent of Green Berets from Fort Bragg attended the Browns OTA’s.
Mangini added: “It’s an amazing opportunity, and incredibly flattering, to have the chance to spend time with our troops. We did a lot of different things both in New York and Cleveland with the military because of the example they set in terms of selflessness, discipline and teamwork. We can’t thank the troops and their families enough for the sacrifices they make to ensure our freedom.”