Pros and Cons of the Jets Retaining Rex Ryan

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIDecember 18, 2013

With the season all but over, the New York Jets find themselves at a crossroads as they face one of the biggest decisions in recent franchise history regarding their head coach, Rex Ryan.

Although he does have one year left on his contract, the Jets must make a decision on Rex Ryan's future after the season concludes to avoid the "lame duck" label (although for this season, Rex has been a lame duck for all intents and purposes). 

Rex Ryan's tenure in New York started in spectacular fashion, taking the Jets to two-straight AFC Championship games. The feat looks even more impressive in hindsight when considering that he did it with an inexperienced Mark Sanchez as his quarterback.

However, straight non-winning seasons since 2010 have worn out any time he has bought for himself. The fact that Rex has never been able to field even a mediocre offense since 2010 with a plethora of quarterbacks raises questions as to whether the Jets will ever be able move past their defensive-minded mantra to become a championship team. 

Despite his deficiencies as an offensive mind, Rex Ryan brings a lot to the table that a lot of coaches are incapable of doing. There is also the argument that based on his personnel, even the brightest offensive genius would be unsuccessful working with the Jets' roster over the past several years.

Over the next few weeks, the Jets need to take a hard look at what Rex does well and whether or not another candidate is capable of getting the Jets to higher places than Rex has ever been able to. 


Rex's Benefits: Defensive Wizard

Rex Ryan has his share of detractors, but even his most mortal enemies cannot deny that he is one of, if not the single brightest defensive minds in football.

When Rex inherited the Jets in 2009, they were coming off a season in which they fielded the 17th-best defense in football that was dreadful against the pass.

Jets Defense
YearDefense RankHead Coach
200817thEric Mangini
20091stRex Ryan
20103rdRex Ryan
20115thRex Ryan
20128thRex Ryan
201321st*Rex Ryan

By the end of the regular season, the Jets had the top defense in football as well as the top pass defense in football. Known for his innovative blitz packages, he was the only coach daring enough to turn "Revis Island" into a reality to compensate for the lack of an elite pass-rusher.

Yes, the Jets defense has been very below average for a Rex Ryan-stamped group, but the fact that the Jets have even been average on defense can be considered a testament to Ryan's coaching. The Jets are starting seven new players (including two rookies), and several veterans, such as Antonio Cromartie, have declined faster than anyone could have predicted.

If the Jets had just any ol' coordinator, their defense would be as much of a liability as their offense. 

Rex Ryan has his flaws, but he also serves as a unique weapon of being able to field the best defense possible (given his personnel). Without Rex, the Jets have to pay more attention to their defense than ever to compensate for the loss of an elite play-caller.

After all, if Rex Ryan were fired, he would be flooded with offers to be the defensive coordinator of about 30 other teams.


Rex's Faults: Personnel

For a man who has spent his entire life coaching football, Rex is simply not a good evaluator of talent, especially when it comes to his own roster. 

The peak of the Rex Ryan regime in New York occurred when he was coaching a strong roster that was virtually already in place by the time he got there. As the years wore on and Ryan was given a stronger voice in the personnel department, the roster deteriorated to the point where the Jets were forced to make wholesale changes by firing general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

Rex did not have final say of the roster, but he had his handprints all over questionable moves such as the trade for Santonio Holmes—as well as giving him a massive contract and making him team captain in 2011—bringing in Derrick Mason in 2011 (who would be cut a month into the season), his refusal to bench struggling players such as Antonio Cromartie, his previously unwavering support for Mark Sanchez and most recently, his blind devotion to Ed Reed. 

Ed Reed was not deemed worthy of being a part of a Houston Texans team that may be the worst in football, but Rex Ryan, ignoring his aging skills that were obvious on tape, not only brought Reed to the Jets when he was released—he immediately made him a starter, even at the cost of developing a promising player in Antonio Allen. 

Because of their lack of job security, coaches tend to think in short-terms anyway—but Reed is no upgrade over Allen. One of Ryan's biggest faults is that he favors players he has a history with (Ed Reed) over younger, better players who may not be proven just yet (Allen).

The good news is, the Jets can easily solve the "issue" of Ryan being terrible with picking personnel by simply not giving him much of a voice in the war room. However, if the Jets retain Ryan and give him power to be a major voice in roster moves, they are only setting themselves and Ryan up for failure.


Rex's Benefits: Team-Unifier

Players love to play for Rex Ryan. It is why Trevor Pryce left the Ravens midseason in 2010 to come to the Jets and why Jim Leonhard turned down more money from the Denver Broncos to sign with the Jets in 2009.

It is why players like Willie Colon, who has not even spent a full season with Rex Ryan, have gone out of their way to show their support for Ryan. 

Rex's players may not always be the best on the field, but the Jets are one of the few teams in the league that truly plays for its coach. When the Jets underperform, they feel as if they personally let Rex down—as if he was their best friend.

Rex does have one scar on his reputation as a master motivator. In 2011, Ryan was as distant from the team as ever, in part because it did not travel to its secluded location in Cortland, N.Y., for training camp. Unnamed Jets attacked Mark Sanchez's preparation and the attitude of Santonio Holmes.

Since then, however, Rex has run a tight ship that has seen no dissension in the locker room. When considering the friction that can be between a porous offense and a stout defense (especially when losing), the fact that the Jets have been a tight bunch amid their circumstances is impressive in itself.

Even this year, with the playoffs out of the realm of possibility, the Jets are as close as ever:

When you combine the fact that Rex is a brilliant defensive mind as well as a master motivator, you have the ingredients for a sound team.


Rex's Faults: Offensively Challenged

Rex is a brilliant defensive mind, but he is about as capable as a 13-year-old playing Madden when it comes to building an offense. 

After fielding the third-worst offense in football a year ago, the Jets improved to the fourth-worst unit in the league (though 14 games). The Jets were never a dynamic offense under Rex, but there was a time in which they were the top rushing unit in football. 

Now, they have no identity, no quarterback and no clear direction as they enter Geno Smith's sophomore season. 

Rex may have finally found a competent offensive coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg, but it took him years of ignoring the flaws of Brian Schottenheimer to make his worst hire ever in Tony Sparano before finally settling on a proven offensive mind to run the show.

While he certainly has not helped matters, it is difficult to blame Rex for the entirety of the team's offensive struggles. Few coaches would have been able to turn Mark Sanchez into a winning player—which Ryan did do in his first two years. 

The bottom line is, if the Jets stick with Rex Ryan, they are accepting the fact that the fate of their offense lies in the hands of the offensive coordinator (of Ryan's choice) because Ryan is not capable of squeezing extra juice out of an offense. 

No one knows for sure if Ryan will be fired at the end of the season. There are a lot more factors at play rather than just Ryan's performance over the last few years. After all, general manager John Idzik will naturally want to bring in his own coach rather than stick with the previous regime's choice.

If the Jets do decide to make a change, they will be moving on from a man who was considered to be one of the best coaches in football. They will have justification for doing so, but firing the coach is the easy part—identifying a true upgrade at the most important role on the team is the real challenge.


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