Ryan deserves to return as head coach in 2014. However, the Jets should redefine his role in a way that exploits his strengths as a defensive guru, media presence and player motivator, while delegating to others offensive play-calling and game-planning, clock management and replay challenges.
They must take Ryan out of the offensive picture as much as possible. They need an offensive czar, someone in their organization who is not only capable of building a championship offense, but who has the authority to do so. That person must be able to define offensive needs, recommend personnel to fill them and make the offense productive. He should be able to work with general manager John Idzik directly, instead of going through Ryan.
Ryan, as the head coach and chief media spokesperson, would need to remain in the loop, but free of the nuts-and-bolts work that building an offense needs. He could concentrate on defense, his strength.
It would not be the first time an NFL team changed a head coach's duties. Recall how Dallas Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett relinquished his offensive play-calling duties to Bill Callahan during the 2013 preseason. However, the Jets change must be more radical.
Here is the evidence:
- The Jets are 30th in the NFL in scoring. Their 270 points surpass only the Houston Texans' 266 points and the Jacksonville Jaguars' 237 points.
- Their minus-110 point differential (net points) is 28th, better only than those of the Oakland Raiders (-111), Washington (-130), Texans (-146) and Jaguars (-182). None of these teams has more than four wins.
- To put it another way, in 2013 only three NFL teams have yielded 270 points or fewer:
That illustrates how much pressure the Jets' lack of scoring places on their defense.
The conclusion is clear: The Jets need to fix their offense to rejoin the NFL's top teams.
The good news is that the Jets already have their offensive czar in house.
They set the stage for an offensive rebuild after the 2012 season when they hired Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator. In 14 seasons as an NFL coach, Mornhinweg has helped develop seven top-10 offenses in terms of yardage and eight top-10 offenses in terms of scoring.
He also knows what it is like to run the whole show, having served as head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2001 and 2002. How good a head coach he was does not matter, only that he knows what it is like from firsthand experience.
In addition to his impressive resume, Mornhinweg shows one other trait that is vital to any coach in the midst of a rebuilding project, flexibility. The multiple looks he brought to the Jets' offense showed an ability to adapt his West Coast system to fit his personnel. He is the best choice to choose the personnel and the strategy that will lift the Jets' offense to new heights in 2014 and beyond.
Making Mornhinweg an offensive czar or executive head coach would result in more power for Mornhinweg and Idzik at Ryan's expense. But that might make all three more successful in the long run. Ryan would focus on stocking and building his defense, Mornhinweg would do the same with the offense and John Idzik, as keeper of the purse strings, would enforce priorities. Each man could do what he does best.
There are two caveats to this plan:
- Mornhinweg won't get everything he wants. First of all, there's the salary cap. Second, the Jets defense, while significantly better than the offense, has holes of its own to fill. The Jets' secondary has not recovered from the loss of LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell and Darrelle Revis. Their defense must also address their susceptibility to the big play and its inability to generate turnovers.
- Special teams affect personnel selection. Mornhinweg cannot pick his offense in a vacuum. He will have his greatest influence in selecting starters, but the further down the depth chart he goes the more versatile a player must be. That will give Ryan and special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica (or perhaps Kotwica's successor) some input.
Making Mornhinweg the Jets' offensive czar should go a long way towards building a contender in 2014. It is not the only Ryan-related issue that the Jets must address. Issues like clock management and challenges transcend both offense or defense. There is another move the Jets must consider:
Hiring a bench coach.
NorthJersey.com's J.P. Pelzman raised the idea in a Dec. 18:
The emotional Ryan still struggles on game day with clock management, replay challenges and decisions such as when to go for it on fourth down. Ryan needs a bench coach, a la baseball, someone who can be in his ear and thinking a few moves ahead at all times.
Ryan's fiery nature sometimes gets the best of him, especially in the heat of the game. His macho tendencies often lead him into silly challenges, simply because he is upset about the result of the play. He needs a calming voice beside him and should look outside his inner circle for such a voice, because that's where some of his best hires have come from. Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar (hired in 2012) and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (2013) hadn't coached with Ryan before.
Pelzman's concept of a bench coach makes sense, but the baseball model may not work. In baseball, the bench coach is often a former manager, such as when Don Zimmer served under Joe Torre with the Yankees. Ryan does not need anyone who could be a potential successor. What he needs instead is someone whose football mind he respects, yet whom he does not perceive to be a threat.
If they do not play next year, two men could work well: former Jets' quarterback Greg McElroy and current No. 3 quarterback David Garrard.
Ryan said during training camp that McElroy, "thinks he's the smartest guy in the building because he is." Geno Smith viewed McElroy as an invaluable resource and mentor. McElroy picked up Marty Mornhinweg's offense quickly and served as a resource for others. He would probably make a great bench coach. The problem is that McElroy, at 25, most likely will not retire.
Garrard might be a more feasible selection. He is nominally the Jets' third-string quarterback but has not played. He will be a free agent in 2014, but at 35, the odds are slim that another team will sign him. His role has been that of Smith's mentor, not competitor. Expanding that role to that of Ryan's game-day confidante might provide the voice of reason Ryan needs while launching the next phase of Garrard's career.
The Jets will finish either 8-8 or 7-9 in 2013, in any position from second place to last in the AFC East. Their final position this year is not as important as their plans for 2014 and beyond. Ryan's coaching has already helped the team to exceed expectations for this year. It's time to think about the best way to reward him for that performance while redefining his role to minimize his weaknesses.
There is, however, no need for embarrassing Ryan. Making Mornhinweg an offensive czar and hiring a bench coach does not require fanfare. Fans and media will judge the 2014 Jets more by their results on the field than by the pomp and circumstance of their press conferences. If the Jets put more points on the board while maintaining a quality defense, we will know they have made the right moves.
The results will speak for themselves.
Standings and scoring statistics are through the end of Week 16 of the 2013 NFL season. Source: NFL.com.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.