FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Brian Schottenheimer is trying to get the New York Jets’ offense back on track and keep the locker room from falling apart.
Frustrated players are taking shots at each other, losses are mounting and disgruntled fans are calling for the offensive coordinator’s job. The Jets are a team on the verge of a full-blown crisis, and Schottenheimer is right in the middle of it all.
“You fight your way through it,” Schottenheimer said Friday. “I think if there’s one thing we pride ourselves on, it’s being tough, high-character guys that work through problems and we’re proud of that.”
Schottenheimer was once considered one of the NFL’s top young offensive coordinators and a potential head coaching candidate. He even turned down a chance to interview for Buffalo’s top job two years ago, relishing the chance to continue working for Rex Ryan.
But now, he’s taking lots of criticism while the Jets’ offense struggles every week, with some fans even starting a Facebook page begging the team to fire him.
“I’m always on the hot seat,” Schottenheimer said. “I’ve been on the hot seat for six years. It’s part of the deal, and if you spend any time worrying about that stuff, then you’re not doing your job because it’s going to be out there.”
It’s just that things are starting to get dicey even among the players themselves. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes has twice called out the offensive line for not giving quarterback Mark Sanchez enough time to throw, most recently on Thursday. He said the same things two weeks ago, and Sanchez said the team talked about keeping those kinds of comments among themselves.
Well, it doesn’t sit well with the Jets’ offensive line, which has indeed accepted some of the blame for some of the problems. But, right guard Brandon Moore says Holmes’ comments “can have a fracturing effect” in the locker room. Moore also was disappointed that Holmes, a team captain, would even make his negative opinions public since “that’s not something a captain does.”
If there wasn’t a rift in the locker room before Friday, there certainly appears to be now. And with the team mired in a three-game losing streak with a game Monday night against the winless Miami Dolphins, things could turn downright ugly without a victory.
“We need to win a game, and we realize that,” Schottenheimer said. “We want to win a game. We’ve been through this before. A couple years back we went through hard times and it’s not a lot of fun. But, there’s only one thing you can do, and that’s roll up your sleeves and get back to work.”
Part of that entails keeping this group together in the locker room, a concern downplayed by both Schottenheimer and Ryan. Sanchez also wasn’t concerned about the Jets having a divide among the players.
“Not a chance,” he said. “Not with this group.”
Moore’s comments certainly suggested otherwise, and Schottenheimer indicated that he would speak to the offense as a group before the game to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Whether it’s done in public, whether it’s done in private, those are things that we’ll keep in house, but this group will be ready to go on Monday night, and I have no questions about that.”
Schottenheimer and Ryan described Holmes as a competitive player whose comments might sometimes be misinterpreted.
“Nobody is more supportive of their teammates than Santonio,” Ryan said. “I don’t think he planned on it being a negative, how it came out negatively.”
Whether the players are happy or not, some fans and media say the source of the problems is Schottenheimer, who accepts full responsibility as the coordinator. He has been praised at times during his six seasons, but lambasted more often lately. New York is ranked 28th in overall offense and has struggled to establish an identity — are they a passing team or a “Ground-and-Pound” group? The players insist it’s not just Schottenheimer’s fault.
“It’s unfair because Schotty’s not the one that’s out there throwing the ball, catching it, running it, blocking,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “He can’t do any of that. All he can do is game plan for us and put us in the right position and hopefully we execute and make the plays.”
A report last weekend said Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason — since traded to Houston — went to Ryan individually to complain about Schottenheimer’s offense. Ryan, the team and all three receivers denied those conversations ever took place.
“Once Rex said it was untrue,” Schottenheimer said, “then I obviously had no concerns about it.”
Tomlinson knows Schottenheimer from their days in San Diego together, when Marty Schottenheimer was the head coach. He saw from afar when the Jets had some success with the younger Schottenheimer running the offense and believes there’s a simple solution to ending the criticism.
“It’s the players’ fault,” he said. “We’ve got to get the job done.”
But is that the general feeling in the locker room?
“I hope so,” said Tomlinson, raising his voice slightly. “I hope that’s the feeling. It should be. If we want to be champions like we say we want to be, we’ve got to hold each other accountable as players and not blame it on the coaches all the time.”
Added center Nick Mangold, who brushed off Holmes’ comments: “We convert a couple more times on third down, we extend drives, and that kind of all goes away. We’re all in this together and we all have to get better.”
As for his own critics, Schottenheimer is aware of them — “the people that say they don’t hear it are lying” — but tries not stew over what’s said and written about him. After all, he had lots of training while watching his father get hired, criticized and fired several times in the NFL while growing up.
“I used to be the guy in school getting in fights with kids talking about my Dad, and now you sit there and you worry about your kids,” he said. “The thing I took from him: You do the best you can, you have trust in yourself and what you’re doing. You stay true to yourself and if you do that, at the end of the day you have that to fall back on.”