FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mike Tannenbaum pulled out a letter as he stood in front of the Jets players for one last time.
It was a farewell address to the group of men he signed, traded for or drafted over the last seven years as the team’s general manager. And he choked back tears as he read it.
“It was really heartfelt,” defensive end Mike DeVito said Monday. “I know Mike, and he’ll bounce back.”
The Jets fired Tannenbaum after a dismal 6-10 season, but owner Woody Johnson announced that Rex Ryan will be back for a fifth season as the team’s coach.
“I believe that he has the passion, the talent, and the drive to successfully lead our team,” Johnson said of Ryan in a statement.
The futures of both Tannenbaum and Ryan were unclear after a 28-9 loss to Buffalo on Sunday, a miserable finish to the team’s first losing season in Ryan’s four seasons as coach. While it appeared Tannenbaum was a likely goner, it was believed Ryan might also be on shaky ground.
Mark Sanchez opened up about the dismissal of Tannenbaum, who traded up to nab the quarterback at No. 5 overall in the 2009 draft.
“We had some success together those first couple of years. It’s hard to see changes like that,” said Sanchez. “You feel for the guy. But at the end of the day it’s a Woody Johnson decision and he’s doing what he thinks is best for the team. I wish Mr. Tannenbaum the best of luck. Great family. They’ve always been good to me.”
Added center Nick Mangold: “When you have a disappointing season like this, things are going to change. You kind of expect it, but it still stings.”
Ryan’s scheduled news conference with the media Monday afternoon was postponed amid speculation that there could be several changes on the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is expected to be fired after one season, while defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s status is uncertain after he turned down a contract extension earlier in the year. Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff retired after Sunday’s game.
Johnson started shaking things up early by parting ways with Tannenbaum, who had been with the organization since 1997. Johnson said he has consulted with several “football executives” and also hired a search firm to help aid in finding a new GM.
“My goal every year as owner is to build a team that wins consistently,” Johnson said. “This year, we failed to achieve that goal. Like all Jets fans, I am disappointed with this year’s results. However, I am confident that this change will best position our team for greater success going forward.”
The Jets were a team in turmoil from the moment they acquired quarterback Tim Tebow in a trade with Denver last March. The move was made by Tannenbaum and highly criticized by fans and media — and failed in just about every way.
Tebow was brought in as a backup for Sanchez and expected to play a key role in certain offensive schemes. He played sparingly, and spent several weeks out of the lineup with injured ribs.
Meanwhile, Sanchez was having a poor season, the Jets kept losing and Tebow never got a chance to be the No. 1 quarterback.
“I underachieved and didn’t play the way I’m capable of playing,” Sanchez said. “I want another crack at this thing.”
Tebow’s time with the Jets began with a splashy news conference, but his one and likely only season ended with the popular backup going out quietly as he wasn’t available to the media as the players cleared out their lockers.
Tannenbaum’s tenure as the Jets’ GM included two trips to the AFC championship game. He had two years left on his contract, but Johnson made the change after the Jets failed to make the playoffs for a second year in a row.
“In this business we get evaluated every week. It’s just the business side of it,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis. “He did great things for us the last couple of years, but I don’t know. It’s really sad. You don’t want to see anybody get fired or anybody get cut or released in this manner, but it happens. He had a great speech that he wrote in the team meeting and guys clapped for him after and felt sad for him.”
Tannenbaum was hired as the team’s director of player contract negotiations in 1997, and served in various other roles before becoming general manager and replacing Terry Bradway in 2006.
With a knack for navigating the NFL’s salary cap, Tannenbaum was never afraid to make splashy signings or trades — Tebow, Brett Favre, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, to name a few. He also made his mark on draft day, bringing in some of the team’s best players such as Revis, Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris. But Tannenbaum had more misses than hits in recent drafts, with Vernon Gholston, Vladimir Ducasse and even Sanchez high-round picks that didn’t perform as expected.
“Mike Tannenbaum was one of the guys responsible for bringing me here,” said Ferguson. “So I think everybody felt saddened today.”
The trade for Tebow was perhaps the biggest mistake. By acquiring Tebow last March, the Jets brought in a player with immense popularity to provide a spark to the offense — just a matter of days after giving Sanchez a contract extension that included $8.25 million in guarantees for next season.
Tebow hardly saw the field, and when he did, he wasn’t very effective. His lack of use was a season-long story line that provided an unnecessary distraction to a team in need of locker room stability after in-fighting derailed its 2011 season.
Many fans and media argued that rather than trade for Tebow, Tannenbaum could have addressed some of the Jets’ more-pressing needs, such as the offensive line, wide receiver and depth on defense.
The next general manager will face an unstable salary cap situation, along with a dozen players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, including starters Dustin Keller, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, Shonn Greene and Brandon Moore.
Meanwhile, that new GM will also have to work with Ryan, who has two years remaining on his contract. He is 34-30 in four seasons and 4-2 in the postseason, including the consecutive trips to the AFC championship game in 2009 and 2010. But he hasn’t been able to parlay that early success into the franchise’s first Super Bowl trip since 1969 — something he guaranteed at his introductory news conference in 2009.
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