By Steve Lichtenstein
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Rex Ryan’s version of the end of his reign as head coach of the Jets is pure fantasy football.
Ryan was featured on HBO’s “Real Sports” on Tuesday and claimed that the Jets’ “organization” (cough, cough — general manager John Idzik — cough, cough) set him up to fail last season in order to justify firing him and bringing in a new coach.
After a 4-12 disaster, the Jets did just that. Now that he’s found a new bully pulpit in Buffalo, Ryan lashed back.
When asked by HBO’s Andrea Kremer if some in the Jets’ organization had different agendas than him, Ryan replied, “I know some of them did — absolutely. ‘We’re not going to bring in free agents because we’re going to get our own guy to be the head coach.’ I know for a fact that was said.”
Now, there’s no arguing that Idzik severely mismanaged the situation by hoarding salary cap space that could have been used to bring in more talented players at a number of positions. The Jets were certainly terribly out-manned in many games last year.
But if this was indeed Idzik’s master plan, how exactly did that work out for him? Idzik was jettisoned on the same Black Monday following the season finale. He’s now a salary cap consultant in Jacksonville while it took Ryan two weeks to land another head coaching job.
Ryan is giving Idzik way too much credit. Idzik had his own ideas on team building, which focused on developing young players in lieu of signing expensive free agents. Cap space would then be used on extensions for the new core. Other teams have succeeded with this philosophy.
Idzik’s downfall, which was famously cited by WFAN’s Mike Francesa in a rant last year, was his incompetence as a talent evaluator.
Idzik hitched his wagon to the Geno Smith Turnover Express, pretty much forcing Ryan to stick with the 2013 second-round quarterback when Ryan had a good argument that others gave the Jets a better chance to win.
Look at Idzik’s drafts. With Smith on the shelf while his broken jaw mends and defensive end Sheldon Richardson suspended for at least the first four games, the only projected 2015 starter from Idzik’s two drafts is safety Calvin Pryor (Tommy Bohanon, a seventh round selection in the 2013 draft, figures to see plenty of action at fullback).
That wasn’t tanking. Or a conspiracy. Idzik was proven to be in over his head.
But in many ways, so was Ryan.
Ryan may be a defensive guru, but he was clueless when it came to offensive football. Offense was outsourced to his coordinators, who in turn had to pledge their allegiance to Ryan’s preferred “Ground and Pound” philosophy.
Even when the Jets were winning, their attack looked like it had been stolen from the 1971 Oklahoma University playbook.
To me, the biggest issue—putting aside my personal pet peeves of Ryan’s penchant for wasting timeouts on defense and ridiculous challenges (he was proven correct on just 6-of-21 challenge flags thrown in his final three seasons after a 17-for-28 start to his career)—was the utter lack of development of the young players he was tasked to nurture.
Outside of the defensive line, what Jet has risen from the ranks to become an elite player under Ryan? You can fault Idzik only so much—there are countless stories of unheralded (or even undrafted) players who shine when given the opportunity to make plays in the NFL.
Just not on the Jets. Ryan — who had autonomy over his staff — can’t defend that record, which explains why he exited with a sub-.500 winning percentage (46-50) after six seasons.
Maybe Ryan should look at the culture he created in New York. Yes, his players apparently loved playing for him, but at what cost?
Kremer mentioned one of many who have criticized Ryan for not holding his players accountable. As the years wore on, you could count on the Jets to make the most egregious mistakes at the most inopportune moments of games.
Ryan was the right man at the right time when he came to New York. The Jets needed some of Ryan’s bluster as well as his creative defensive designs to wake up a moribund franchise. The consecutive trips to AFC Championship games in Ryan’s first two seasons were miraculous. I mean, who goes 4-2 in road NFL playoff games, including back-to-back wins over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady?
Unfortunately, two subpar seasons followed, and owner Woody Johnson lay the blame at general manager Mike Tannenbaum’s feet. According to Ryan, he’s always had Johnson’s support, which meant any new GM had to accept Ryan as part of the deal. (Curiously, a widely reported excerpt of the show in which Ryan claimed Johnson wanted to keep him as coach after last season as well but “the media wouldn’t allow it” was edited out of the final cut.)
That likely limited Johnson’s options, so we all got stuck with Idzik, a pencil-pusher who happened to work in the administration of the up-and-coming Seattle Seahawks.
Ryan’s dream job — his father Buddy was an assistant on the 1969 Super Bowl champion Jets — was doomed, but not for the reasons he expressed on “Real Sports.”
No one in the Jets organization went into last season hoping the Jets would stink so they could get rid of Rex — it’s just that with a triumvirate of Johnson, Idzik and Ryan in charge, anyone expecting better results was living in a fantasy world.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.