NY Daily News: It’s Not a Rex Problem, It’s a Talent Problem

Published on: 21st November, 2012

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New York —  Woody Johnson took a leap of faith nearly four years ago when he hired a head coach who didn’t look or act the part. Rex Ryan had an oversized torso and mouth, making grandiose predictions reserved for diehards in parking lot tailgates than the face of one of the most lucrative sports franchises in the world.

Johnson’s choice to hitch his wagon to Ryan was brilliant for reasons that extended far beyond the coach’s innate ability to generate headlines. Ryan was the John Nash of defensive football minds, a savant who stymied offenses around the league for the better part of a decade.

Now, the Jets owner needs to make another brilliant decision by being patient with a head coach who has vaulted his franchise back to relevance despite recent struggles.

Note to Woody: You already got the right man for the job.

The Jets are 4-6 heading into their Thanksgiving showdown against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium for myriad reasons. Darrelle Revis, the best defensive player in the NFL, and Santonio Holmes, the Jets’ top offensive playmaker, are out for the season. Mark Sanchez’s supporting cast is below average at best.

Ryan isn’t the problem. A lack of talent is.

A couple days after Johnson held a private meeting with general manager Mike Tannenbaum, Ryan and a few assistant coaches to assess the state of the team last week, the owner announced that he’s not happy. Nobody would expect him to be, but the best way to fix the problem lies in making smart, strategic changes around Ryan.

Bill Parcells famously said that “They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

If Johnson decides to keep his front office intact  – Tannenbaum is signed through 2014 – Ryan must have a larger voice in personnel matters.

Tannenbaum, whose strength is navigating the salary cap, firmly believes in a collaborative decision-making approach regarding draft picks and trades. However, there have been too many times when finances have driven personnel moves in the bottom half of the roster.

The result: A glaring lack of depth that has come back to bite the Jets in the wake of key injuries. The Jets have made an eye-opening 53 personnel moves since the start of the season, seemingly tinkering with the bottom half of the roster on a daily basis.

The Jets aren’t wildly spending Johnson’s cash, so the budget should no longer drive some decisions.

(The Jets have made some seemingly odd cost-cutting measures such as Matt Slauson’s $258,000 pay cut in training camp).

Ryan’s ability to keep players he believes can help his team win should never be compromised.

Ryan, who is signed through 2014, has been far from perfect, but how many first-time head coaches have come within one game of the Super Bowl twice in their first three seasons?

“Every assistant coach thinks they’re ready to be a head coach,” Ryan said on Tuesday. “Well, people say, ‘Oh, you’re making a ton of mistakes right now.’ Well, that’s probably true. But I made more when I was just coming into this thing in ’09.

“I’ve been around football all my life, but you’ve never been in this chair,” Ryan added. “They say you can’t buy experience and I believe that’s the truth. But I think right now I’m more comfortable in this role as the head coach. I’ve learned. And I still learn.”

Johnson should consult the Rooney family in Pittsburgh on the virtues of patience. It took Bill Cowher, an annual hot coaching candidate these days, 13 seasons before he won his only Super Bowl. The Rooneys tuned out fan sentiment to fire Cowher after three consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs from 1998-2000.

Even Jon Gruden, who has vaulted to the top of the list of free agent head coaching candidates, went through rough patches. After winning the Super Bowl in his first season in Tampa with Tony Dungy’s players, Gruden didn’t win a playoff game and missed the postseason in four of his final six seasons with the Buccaneers.

The Jets may miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, but Ryan’s eternal optimism has galvanized a team that still plays with maximum effort. They believe in him, which shouldn’t be overlooked.

“We have the people that we can get out of a bad situation by the work ethic and our belief in the person next to (you) and your belief in yourself,” Ryan said.

When TV and radio pundits tried to twist a Daily News report in which players made it clear that Tim Tebow’s quarterback skills aren’t good enough to be the starter into a convenient narrative of a divided locker room, Ryan made sure his players remained unified.

Whether the Jets make the playoffs or not, it’ll be paramount to accumulate more on-field talent.

Now’s not the time for Johnson to be reactionary. Ryan can still fulfill his promise to pay a visit to the White House.

 

This article was written by NY Jets beat writer for the Daily News, Manish Mehta.

 

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