By Jeff Capellini
A lot has been made of Rex Ryan over the four and a half seasons he’s been the fearless and sometimes frustrating head coach of the Jets. He’s had moments that would lead fans of this long-suffering franchise to believe he was and still is the absolute right choice, and others that have made many wonder why he was hired in the first place.
But he has persevered.
Ryan is a very human character in a professional sports landscape filled with larger-than-life individuals. He wears his heart on his sleeve. His desire to lead this franchise to glory is genuine and out there for the world to digest. His personality is infectious, maybe more so when the Jets win, and has remained consistent.
Rex has never sold out. He is who he is and that allure is the main reason why his players always play hard for him.
But Ryan has faced one massive obstacle, and, contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been his mouth.
He’s never been given a ready-made team to work with. He’s been forced to head a fly-by-night operation, due to the fact that the quarterback position, regardless of where the Jets have ended up in the standings, has always been a work in progress under his watch.
It’s very, very difficult to win in the NFL when your quarterback isn’t the real deal. Is there a position in all of team sports more important? I think most everyone is in agreement that there isn’t.
Mark Sanchez was never a given. We might not know for years if Geno Smith can be a messiah.
And for the better part of their history, the Jets have embarked on season after season without not only a star under center but a man 52 others can look at as the calming influence in times of crisis, a guy that will make all the right decisions even if his abilities don’t lead to the desired results.
You can count the great Jets quarterbacks in franchise history on one finger. You can count the good ones on two more, and one was just for a single season.
That, more than anything else, is the reason why the Jets have not won a Super Bowl in 44 years. Sure, the Jets have had other problems too, on both sides of the ball, but a great quarterback is the great equalizer. History had proven it time and again.
The Jets had Joe Namath, who revolutionized the game in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Ken O’Brien in the mid-’80s and Vinny Testaverde in ’98. And of those three, only one is considered an all-time great, and that’s really due to who he was rather than what he was as a player.
So if you scratch your head wondering why the Jets have never been able to sustain anything remotely close to excellence, there’s your reason.
I want to see Ryan have the benefit of a very good quarterback. I think that’s the only way he can be fairly judged.
Under his tenure the Jets have had at certain times the best running game and arguably one of the best defenses in the NFL. But in the passing game department, especially now in an age where teams have to light up scoreboards to win consistently, the Jets have suffered greatly. I don’t see how any head coach would win consistently without a field general. That deficiency makes all expectations unrealistic and subsequent results taken too literally.
If you don’t like Ryan because of who he is and what he portrays as an everyday individual, that’s really your problem. He’s gone 38-34 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoffs with basically one hand tied behind his back. One needs to have perspective to adequately assess his body of work. And, unfortunately, not enough people have that perspective.
Assuming Ryan doesn’t lose the locker room during the season’s second half, Woody Johnson needs to extend his head coach’s contract. He needs to do it the second the Jets’ season ends.
I saw this bunch as possibly a .500 team when the season started, not because I overvalued its personnel or dared to be different, but because the NFL remains a league of parity. People still don’t want to accept that as fact. Yet the 2-14 Chiefs from a year ago are now 8-0, the first place team in the oft-powerful and revered NFC East is .500 and the Jets, Raiders and Cardinals, teams penciled in to be among the worst on the planet back in the preseason, are a combined one game below .500 and still very much alive for playoff berths.
Ryan’s team isn’t better than people thought because its talent is better than most everyone predicted. The Jets are better because their head coach is making the most of what he has compared to the jobs a good percentage of the rest of the league’s head coaches are doing with what they have.
And because the “Any Given Sunday” mantra continues to be gospel, excuses shouldn’t be made for why Rex’s .500 Jets have done some things many figured they weren’t capable of doing.
The parity aspect in the salary cap era is not going to change. Dynasties are dinosaurs, wiped out by a meteor made of money. Rebuilds in the NFL happen very quickly. Falls from grace happen just as quickly. Staying in the mix, which Rex has done during the majority of his tenure without even an average quarterback, is something to be lauded, not viewed as defining a man or his players as mediocre.
I believe that general manager John Idzik knows what he’s doing. People viewed signings like Antwan Barnes and Mike Goodson as throw-away deals, just moves to fill out the roster and give the fans at least the illusion that the team was trying to do something. Well, now that they are both out for the season, how different do the Jets look defensively without an edge pass rusher? How much does the offense struggle without an explosive receiver out of the backfield?
You can’t overstate those injuries enough.
With the Jets’ wide receivers struggling, was the David Nelson signing one of desperation or because Idzik saw something in the talent and, more importantly, the fit? All Nelson has done is catch 15 passes in three weeks.
The Jets are going to be well under the salary cap next offseason and in position to address a plethora of needs. And though the fans like to go back and forth about possibly drafting another quarterback, I just don’t see idzik doing it. That would not be progress. That would be surrender. Idzik is a builder with a blueprint, not someone who runs out of funds and leaves an eyesore on the block while he starts with new investors elsewhere.
Whatever opinions Idzik has on Ryan, he’s had one indecipherable poker face. What he thinks of Rex beyond what you’ve been told will not be known until the offseason, but I think he’d be making a big mistake if he somehow convinces Johnson that Ryan should be jettisoned. If this general manager decides that legacy shopping is more important than the foundation that has been constructed, that’s his prerogative, but there’s no denying there are many building blocks in place for future success.
And Idzik, not Ryan, is the one tied directly to the Jets’ current state of flux at quarterback.
It’s not the time to mess with the Geno dynamic. It’s time to let Rex continue to do what he’s largely been doing for some time now.
Because this head coach, regardless of how he has been portrayed in the media, has been an over-achiever with the Jets.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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