MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The postgame cheer from inside the New York Jets’ locker room could be heard in the stadium hallways.
The reason for the roar: The Jets were keeping their coach.
Shortly after Sunday’s 20-7 victory over Miami to conclude an 8-8 season, Jets owner Woody Johnson told the team that Rex Ryan would return for a sixth season in 2014.
“Everyone in the locker room was ecstatic,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “It felt as if you won the Super Bowl. Having our head coach back, a guy we enjoy playing for, it’s great.”
Johnson lauded Ryan’s “passion” and leadership in an email Sunday to season-ticket holders.
“Obviously, one of the first steps in moving forward is making a decision about our Head Coach,” Johnson said in the letter, according to multiple reports. “I hired Rex Ryan in January of 2009 for many reasons, but one of his strengths really stands out. Rex has more passion than anyone I have ever met. Passion for the Jets. Passion for teaching and motivating his players and coaches. Passion for winning. Like any NFL Head Coach, he’s had ups and downs, but Rex has been a tremendous leader of this football team.
“That is why, after today’s game, I informed the team of our carefully-considered decision: Rex Ryan will continue as Head Coach of the New York Jets. … We’re confident that, with the leadership of General Manager John Idzik, working closely with Rex, we will enter 2014 with great opportunities to improve. We have the resources in place to continue to build our team, including more draft picks and roster flexibility than in previous years. In short, we’re on the right path. We are going to continue to move forward together, always looking to be better and stronger, building on our successes and learning from our failures.”
Ryan was given the news before the game. He’s 42-38 in the regular season with the Jets, and his future had been in doubt even though he’s popular with players, has a 4-2 postseason record and has a year left on his contract.
“This is our coach,” a fired-up Idzik told the team. “This is our coach!”
Idzik’s comments could be seen in a video of the postgame announcement published to the team’s official website. In the clip, Ryan appeared teary-eyed as his players erupted in celebration.
The Jets will sit out the playoffs for the third year in a row.
“I’ll say this: I love being the head coach of the New York Jets, plain and simple,” Ryan said. “You put everything you’ve got into it. I never wanted to go out this way. We’ve missed the playoffs three straight years, and that bothers me, no question.”
Players had expressed their support for Ryan in recent days and did so again after the finale.
“Everybody wanted Rex back,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “He’s the right man for the job.”
Players celebrated the win in the finale by soaking Ryan with a bucket of sports drink. The victory gave the Jets their first two-game winning streak, but Johnson said the decision to retain Ryan was made before those victories.
“We’re on the ascent, and a lot has to do with our coach,” Johnson told reporters.
Idzik, who is completing his first year with the Jets, denied that he wanted to hire his own coach rather than continue with Ryan.
“We were together from the beginning,” Idzik said. “I know there’s speculation throughout the season otherwise, but we always worked together. He’s been tremendous to work for and work with. He’s a leader, a motivator. He’s a teacher. He’s a great coach, too.”
It was not clear if Ryan will coach through his existing deal or be given a contract extension. Neither Johnson nor Idzik would discuss details related to Ryan’s contract. But according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets and Ryan have a “shared understanding” that an extension will be on the agenda.
Ryan was animated throughout Sunday’s victory. When Smith scored on a 7-yard, third-down keeper up the middle with 3 seconds left in the first half for a 14-7 lead, Ryan ran on the field to celebrate with his players. When running back Bilal Powell threw a 30-yard completion to set up the Jets’ first field goal, Ryan punched the air as he sprinted along the sideline.
The coach was eager for his team to atone for a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins on Dec. 1.
“Quite honestly, we owed them,” Ryan said. “This team is getting better. This was going to be a proving ground for that. This was a team that whipped us. That was the main driving force.”
Smith had been benched during that loss. In the rematch, the rookie led three long scoring drives, ran for a touchdown and threw for 190 yards.
“After the benching, I had to dig deep — a lot of soul-searching, the first time it ever happened to me in my life,” he said. “Quite honestly, I don’t like it. That was part of the decision-making of the coaches. I just had to continue believing in myself.”
Ryan and Idzik will now look forward to building next season’s team with plenty of issues to consider, starting with Smith. The Jets must determine whether he can be their quarterback of the future, and whether they’ll draft another player to compete with him or sign a proven veteran.
New York will likely part with quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes to save money on the salary cap, and there are several potential key free agents, including right tackle Austin Howard, right guard Willie Colon and kicker Nick Folk.
Expectations were extremely low for this year’s team. One major factor was the trade of the Jets’ best player — Darrelle Revis — to Tampa Bay, a big blow to Ryan’s defense. There was also a dearth of game-changing talent on offense, and an underwhelming yet closely contested quarterback competition between Sanchez and Smith, a second-round draft pick. That was settled only when Sanchez was lost for the year with a shoulder injury in the third preseason game.
New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was forced to try to develop Smith on the fly. After a solid first few games, Smith became a turnover machine before bouncing back in his last four outings of the season, in which the Jets went 3-1 to finish .500.
Notes: Jets reserve CB Kyle Wilson left the game in the first half with a knee injury and didn’t return. … Rookie Dee Milliner made two interceptions, and 35-year-old Ed Reed added one to prevent a Miami comeback.
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