By Peter Schwartz
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After three straight seasons without making the playoffs, a head coach usually doesn’t deserve to come back. He also usually doesn’t have the unwavering support of a fan base that has been waiting patiently for a championship team.
But in the land of the Jets, things are quite often far from normal, and this year was no different. Gang Green will watch the playoffs on television (or maybe the Super Bowl in person in the Jets’ suite) for the third straight year, but head coach Rex Ryan will return in 2014.
And that’s a good thing.
“Rex has more passion than anyone I have ever met,” said owner Woody Johnson in a letter to season-ticket holders after the game. “Like any NFL head coach, he’s had ups and downs, but Rex has been a tremendous leader of this football team.”
I’ve said all along that general manager John Idzik should have the right to bring in his own man. When Mike Tannenbaum was fired after last season, Johnson said a new GM would have to inherit Ryan, creating a shotgun marriage. Idzik took the job and had to have thought, just like many fans and members of the media, that the Jets were going to be awful this season.
Had the Jets won 3, 4 or 5 games, like many people predicted, it would have given Idzik the ammunition he needed to convince Johnson that it was time to send Ryan packing.
But the Jets didn’t get that memo!
Somehow, with a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith, not much in the way of skill-position weapons on offense and a defense that was lacking in the secondary, the Jets managed to stay in playoff contention through 15 weeks, win three of their last four, finish 8-8 and actually have more than just a glimmer of home for the future.
I’m been very critical of Johnson over the years, but bringing back Ryan was the right move, even if Idzik was not on board — and we’ll probably never know if he really was. From all accounts, it seemed that Ryan and Idzik worked well together, so we’re going to assume that this mutual lovefest is real.
“I always made the assumption we were together from the beginning,” said Idzik. “I know there has been speculation through the season, but we always worked together.”
Well enough that he is going to work with Ryan for a second season.
While it’s not known yet if Ryan is back as a lame duck on the final year of his contract or if the two sides have agreed on an extension, the Jets now have to go out and prove that this was the right decision for the franchise.
Ryan earned the right to come back next season. He is the best man for the job.
“I’ll say this,” said Ryan after the game. “I love being the head coach of the New York Jets, plain and simple.”
Ryan, plain and simple, held this team together this year and the players have made it clear that they will go through a brick wall for him. Ryan certainly has some shortcomings as a head coach. He can be clueless at times about the offensive side of the ball and some of his instant-replay challenge decisions leave much to be desired.
But he is a master motivator and is an outstanding defensive mind. No coaches are perfect, including Ryan, but he has shown enough to warrant another year.
Idzik has to make the right player-personnel decisions. He needs to have another good draft, add some free agents and jettison players that no longer fit into the Jets’ plans. Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes look like goners and maybe even Antonio Cromartie if he doesn’t agree to restructure his contract.
With some cap relief on the way, Idzik will have some flexibility to upgrade the talent around Smith and give offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg some more opportunities to open up the playbook.
Idzik almost must give Ryan some help on the defensive side of the ball with a defensive back or two and another linebacker to help complement the Jets’ outstanding defensive line.
We already knew that the owner loves Ryan and the majority of fans wanted Ryan to return.
Painted into a corner or not, Idzik had no choice but to become a believer and buy into what Ryan brings to the table.
A football team needs stability on the sideline.
What are Cleveland Browns fans thinking today? They fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after just one year on the job. Other head coaches have been fired and will continue to be fired All things considered, the Jets had no reason to make a change at this time. Under Ryan, they have gone to two AFC Championship Games and have had just one losing season in five years.
It’s far from the success that the Patriots have enjoyed under Bill Belichick and it’s also a far cry from the pair of Super Bowl titles that Tom Coughlin has guided the Giants to, but you don’t just keep going in a different direction ever five years. You have to try to give a flower a chance to blossom.
Now it’s very possible that the bloom will eventually come off the rose, but for now, the best thing for the Jets is stability.
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