Rex Ryan may end up being a victim of his own success.
The New York Jets were never expected to make noise in the playoff race, but after compiling a 5-4 record through the first nine games of the season, it grew difficult to utter the word "playoffs" in a sentence without also including the Jets as a team in the mix.
Since that point, the Jets have been in the doldrums during a 2-4 slump that has reset their image from a team exceeding expectations to one reminding people of those very expectations.
A report on Sunday morning from Jay Glazer of Fox Sports indicated that coach Ryan told his team that "word on the street" is that he’ll be fired after this season.
Ryan tried to make a case for his job after the win, saying, "I told you this team is on the climb. It's on the rise. It was pretty clear, at least to me, that's what we saw today."
But did we see enough for Ryan to stay in New York?
Why They Should Keep Him
Overachieving in 2013
It wasn't uncommon to find the Jets ranked among the worst teams in football headed into the season, but regardless of what happens from here on out, they have already performed better than anyone expected.
Ryan has done a remarkable coaching job this season. The Jets "Expected Wins" in 2013, according to Pro Football Reference, [is] four games this year. Ryan's team already has six wins on the season, with two weeks left to play...somehow, with Smith at the helm and really no playmaking wide receivers (their best wideout, Santonio Holmes, was hurt most of the season), the Jets still won six games and have a shot at winning two more. Along the way, they beat both the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. [Owner Woody] Johnson's big question as his decision on Ryan nears: Is there an available coach out there who would have done a better job than Ryan did with this year’s Jets team?
The Jets have scrapped out seven wins this year, and that is far better than where many pundits had this team finishing before the season began.
Consider how much Ryan has been able to achieve with a team that was supposed to be so bad this season. It may not be fair to call 2013 a success, but it's certainly a stretch to say this is a failure of a coaching job by Ryan.
According to Sports Illustrated, a 2010 polling of NFL players showed that Ryan was the coach players most wanted to play for.
Current Jets players agree.
"A thousand percent yes," linebacker Calvin Pace said, via Bob Glauber of Newsday. "A thousand percent."
"Definitely want him to come back," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "He's a great coach, a coach that's going to go to bat for his players day in and day out. He's the right guy for this job."
Players constantly stick up for Ryan when asked about him by the media. They even feel they've done a disservice to him when they do not perform well.
That being said, you could debate, to an extent, whether being a "player's coach" is a good thing. It's not a coach's job to get his players to like him. His job is to get them to work hard and get the most out of them. Sometimes, that means pushing some buttons and being the "bad guy."
Better Options Out There?
The list of coaches available doesn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence that anyone out there will immediately come in and do better than Ryan did. Lovie Smith is the only one with NFL head coaching experience.
|Coaching candidates currently on the market|
|Mike Zimmer||Bengals||Defensive coordinator|
|Adam Gase||Broncos||Offensive coordinator|
|Ray Horton||Browns||Defensive coordinator|
|Greg Roman||49ers||Offensive Coordinator|
|Art Briles||Baylor||Head coach|
|David Shaw||Stanford||Head coach|
|Kevin Sumlin||Texas A&M||Head coach|
|Lovie Smith||Free agent||Former head coach|
|Ken Whisenhunt||Free agent||Former head coach|
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Baylor coach Art Briles are expected to be the hot college candidates this year, and there are also big-time former NFL coaches like Smith, Gary Kubiak, Ken Whisenhunt, Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden. The latter two are long shots to be pulled out of the broadcast booth, and given the general lack of success from Kubiak and Whisenhunt, it's hard to argue that they're truly upgrades over Ryan.
So, there are a few reasons the Jets could elect to keep Ryan around for another year:
- The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.
- As bad as things look in the rear-view analysis of the 2013 season, the expectations had things looking even worse. Thus, maybe Ryan isn't as much of a "devil" as No. 1 would imply.
- The players love him.
- Ryan has one year left on his deal, and the Jets might be inclined to give him one more chance, especially if they don't think any of this year's coaching candidates are significant upgrades over their current coach.
Why They Shouldn't Keep Him
Four brand new sets of receivers, three offensive coordinators, two bad quarterbacks and a partridge in a pear tree.
Regardless of the performance of the defense, there's one unequivocal conclusion we can draw from Ryan's five years with the Jets: developing a quarterback is not in his wheelhouse. He has given autonomy to all three of his offensive coordinators: first Brian Schottenheimer, then Tony Sparano, now Marty Mornhinweg.
Yes, that might lead you to believe Ryan is blameless for the shortcomings of the offense—if it's out of his hands, how can he fix it?—but at what point do we begin to hold him accountable for being helpless?
Developing a quarterback can't fall on the shoulders of one guy. It has to be an organizational commitment. The general manager has to provide enough tools for the quarterback to be successful. The coaches have to feature his strengths, strengthen his weaknesses and build effective game plans based on where he is in his development. The quarterback has to put in the work to not just improve, but evolve, since defenses will eventually catch up to him.
The Jets have struggled to find the right mix of talent and good coaching on the offensive side of the ball in Ryan's tenure. He has been the one constant.
The Fall of the Defense
Once Ryan's calling card, the defense can no longer be considered a strength of the team. There are issues to be corrected left and right, and while many of them fall on the shoulders of general manager John Idzik and former GM Mike Tannenbaum, it's impossible not to hold Ryan accountable.
There are glimmers of the brilliant defensive mind we once saw on a regular basis, with big performances against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Saints signal-caller Drew Brees.
|Two best and worst performances of the year for Jets defense|
|Pro Football Reference|
Those were the kinds of quarterbacks Ryan used to feast on. We know the standout defensive mind still lingers in there somewhere, but there's no excuse for that level of inconsistency. That is to say, if you can get your team to play that well against top competition, it should not look that bad against above- to below-average quarterbacks.
As alluded earlier, the Jets have not made good personnel decisions under Ryan. Ryan is not solely responsible for those shortcomings, as it must partly be attributed to the GMs, but some of the Jets' worst personnel choices have come from their inability to evaluate their own talent.
When Ryan arrived, the Jets roster was loaded with talent. That group provided the nucleus for what proved to be two surprise seasons, and they reached reaching the AFC Championship Game back-to-back years.
Since that point, the roster has deteriorated from one that was expected to remain among the top teams in the league to one that was in a state of rebuilding.
Goodbye to Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, hello to Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. Blind devotion to Ed Reed, a trip to the bench for Antonio Allen. Constant support for Mark Sanchez, Wayne Hunter and several other players. How John Conner kept a spot on the roster for so long remains a mystery. Did he have blackmail material on Ryan?
At this point, the defensive line is the only "strength" that the Jets can truly claim right now, and it's almost entirely comprised of first-round talent.
Bleacher Report featured columnist Ryan Alfieri has a thought on how to fix Ryan's personnel woes:
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.
The problem is, that's not really fixing anything; it's like mascara on a giant pimple.
At some point, the mascara is going to come off, and personnel decisions are going to be left up to Ryan. When that happens, the Jets may have a problem on their hands.
When a new GM is brought in, they typically like to bring in their own head coach. It helps them start using their own vision to build the team. As such, the writing is usually on the wall for the coach and anyone else in the organization: Changes are coming, and no one is safe.
Before the season began, there were two words that were most commonly used to describe Rex Ryan's status as the head coach.
Idzik even said during the preseason that the decision on the starting quarterback wouldn't be left entirely to Ryan.
"I've got a pretty big role in that. I think we're going to discuss that much like we do anything: it's going to be a collective opinion. We're going to hash it out. And it's not limited to quarterbacks. I know that's front stage and center. It's every position."
If quarterback Geno Smith develops in his second year, they'll be a bit closer, but the Jets are a long way from being a true playoff contender. The process to getting the team back in that mix should begin with a new head coach.
Ultimately, it comes down to this question: Do the Jets take the short view of Ryan as an overachiever with the 2013 Jets, or do they take the long view of him having missed the playoffs for the past three years?
It is my opinion that Idzik would like to bring in his own coach, which means the end of Ryan in New York.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.