By Ernie Palladino
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Willie Colon is an old warrior which, in a football locker room, carries a lot of weight. So when he says Rex Ryan should return next year as Woody Johnson’s head coach, people tend to listen.
Colon’s words weigh heavy in the court of public opinion, and not just because he can pick up just about any member of this country’s population and throw him through a wall, but because his name has cache. He won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2008, so it should be of no concern to anyone that his words come near the end of a one-year contract. Though Colon may not even be here next season, the fact that he came out for Ryan after the Panthers punt-blocked and pick-sixed their way to victory over his Jets Sunday absolutely means something.
Whether the Jets’ hierarchy listened is another story. Sometimes, not even the most impassioned of speeches from the most respected of veterans can save a losing coach’s job. So Colon’s soapbox proclamation that Ryan’s passion, heart and know-how were the reasons for him coming here may have no bearing on Ryan’s job security a couple of days after this third straight mess of a season ends.
Colon is a good man, sticking up for his coach. His only problem is that, like Ryan, he is somewhat delusional in his assessment. Colon plays offense. Ryan is not an offensive coach. He’s a defense guy. Always was, just like his old man, Buddy, and his long-tressed brother, Rob. He’s actually a great defensive guy who has been saddled with a second-round quarterback as his starter and a receiving corps which injuries left shallower than a winter foxhole.
Despite that, Ryan swore the Jets were heading in the right direction. See? Delusional. The offense has exactly one decent skill player now — running back Chris Ivory — to take into next season. They need to start over at quarterback in a league where that position now stands paramount among all others. And yes, they could use another quality wide receiver or two to complement Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes, whose body may have become as unfixable as his loose, opinionated lips.
The strength of the Jets this year was definitely defense. With Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and David Harris returning to create the bulk of a good front seven, that area should need no tweaking next year. But that secondary left much to be desired. In that sense, even Ryan’s focus unit may be heading downhill.
To say, then, that Ryan’s team is heading in the right direction is at best an overstatement.
Still, not all the fault lies with Ryan. Geno Smith was John Idzik’s pick. He wanted to put his stamp on the franchise. The fact that it hasn’t been worth enough to send a five-cent postcard through the mail isn’t all Ryan’s fault. Although, he could have ordered his offensive coordinator to stop with the failed Wildcat and teach Smith how to read a defense.
Colon undoubtedly realized all that. The savvy veteran knows a coach can’t do it by X’s and O’s alone. He needs the horses, and the Jets have been seriously short of those on Colon’s side.
Johnson knows it, too. For that matter, anyone watching the Jets of 2013 could see that. About the only ones who might feel differently are Ryan, who must say the right thing if he wants even a chance at keeping his job, and then Idzik, whose draft failure with Smith helped create this whole mess.
Whether or not Ryan keeps his job all depends on how much of the blame the owner puts at the coach’s doorstep. Ryan isn’t alone in this. But he isn’t blameless, either.
In the end, even the words of a respected veteran like Colon may not be enough to save Ryan. It happens like that sometimes, especially when a team misses the playoffs three straight years.
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