By Kristian Dyer
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After a season of frustration and disappointment, Jets fans are rightfully looking for change. The 2012 season marks the second straight year that the team won’t be making the playoffs, a downward spiral of form since making consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010.
Heads will likely roll this offseason, but Jets fans must be out of their minds to consider trashing head coach Rex Ryan. In fact, this might be the finest coaching job he’s done in his time in New York.
When Ryan was brought into the franchise four years ago after a successful stint on the staff of the Ravens, he was coming to a team that was despondent. After Bill Parcells left after the 1999 season, the Jets were wayward and lacked direction. Yes, there were seasons with success and trips to the playoffs, but the specter of impending doom still hovered over and above this franchise. The Jets post-Parcells and pre-Rex were directionless and dysfunctional.
In many ways they still are, but give the man time to make the transformation complete. Four decades of ineptitude as a franchise cannot be overcome in just a couple of years.
What happened four years ago — when Ryan walked into the team facility, past the hallway mural of cheering fans, through the field house and into the press-conference room to be introduced as the team’s head coach — was the beginning of a change in culture. He was brash and bigger than life in those days before the Lap-Band surgery, his talk as big as his girth. There were no qualms about his intentions to turn this team and franchise around from the loser mentality that had been a part of its DNA since the 1968 season.
Ryan spoke of a winning mentality. He introduced the idea of “Playing Like a Jet.” He dreamed of making the Super Bowl. He unapologetically talked about championships. In a place where losing had become part of the identity, Ryan’s biggest job was always going to be in the locker room and the classroom, and not on the field.
This wasn’t a rebuilding job; it was a building job. For four decades, there all too often wasn’t even a foundation for the next head coach. Now Ryan has put that in place. He has won more games than he’s lost and he is still the only coach in franchise history to go to a championship game in consecutive years. That counts for something, and maybe even a little more, given where this team has been.
This season, despite his bravado, was never going to be one in which Ryan would find his return to the postseason. There was a severe lack of talent on the roster and too many veteran pieces from the year before were rightfully sent packing. The team given to him by management was lacking true playmakers. Add in the fact that they lost arguably the two biggest stars on the team in cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes — both to injuries early in the season — and their playoff aspirations were killed.
Factor in the league’s worst starting quarterback and this team was doomed from the start. Yet despite all this, Ryan’s team was in the playoff hunt up until two weeks ago. They continued to play hard for their head coach and the locker room was devoid of the controversy of last year, showing that in his fourth year he has learned lessons on how to manage his players.
Lots of teams would have folded up and closed the shop long before the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs. Instead, through the force of his personality, he willed a bunch of misfits and unproven players to a good run for awhile. A team that had no right to be on the field somehow gave a good imitation of being playoff contenders for much longer than they rightfully should have.
To take a team that lost so many players to injury –a team that only had a few true playmakers on either side of the ball — and somehow get them to whiff the playoffs is proof that Ryan is a tremendous head coach. Firing him would solve nothing but set the team back again.
To blame Ryan for the team’s losing record this year, his first losing season as head coach of the Jets, is to make a scapegoat of a man who has done nothing but try to build the franchise up. He may not be the perfect coach and he may never take the Jets to the Super Bowl, but he deserves at least one more shot to get there.
Should he stay or should he go? Make your case in the comments section below…