Name a coach available in 2014 who absolutely, positively could have done a better job with the 2013 New York Jets than head coach Rex Ryan. You can't, because no such absolutely's or positively's exist in football.
There are two ways you can look at Ryan. On one hand, he led the Jets to three straight seasons at or below .500, missing the playoffs in each of those years. On the other hand, his squad performed better than anyone expected in 2013—an 8-8 record and second place in the AFC East.
Owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik chose the latter, and as a result, Ryan will return for 2014.
There are some reasons to be critical of the move, but the Jets finished out the season strong. For that reason, Ryan deserves to keep his job.
You can knock Rex for a lot of things, but there's one thing you can't knock: The players love him. His players never stopped fighting and consequently exceeded expectations.
"You gave it everything you had every play, and you played hard for this coach," said Johnson in an address to the team after their Week 17 victory over the Miami Dolphins. "And that's why I've elected to keep Rex..."
The rest of his statement couldn't be heard over the jubilant cries of the team, but it didn't matter anyway.
The Jets could have bought into the press clippings before the season. This team wasn't supposed to win three games, but it had hit that mark in Week 5. It surely wasn't supposed to win five games, but sat at that mark after nine weeks of action.
But eight wins? Show me someone who says they predicted that and I'll show you a liar.
Eight wins with an offense lacking any semblance of skill position talent? Eight wins with a quarterback rated as the league's worst starter in passer rating? Eight wins without a single Pro Bowl player? Ryan guided the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship Games during his first two years with the team, but this may be his finest coaching job yet.
It won't be enough, however, if 2013 remains his finest coaching job in a year or two. There aren't any better coaches available this year, but that doesn't mean there won't be better options in the future.
Ryan is set to hit the last year of his deal, unless the two sides work out an extension.
Even if Ryan gets the extension he desires, there are no guarantees. The Jets' players and coaches must now prove Idzik and Johnson right, and a step back in 2014 could lead to the same old questions about Ryan's job security.
The players love Rex, the fans love Rex and the front office loves Rex—or at least likes him enough to keep him around for the time being.
Right now, Ryan is the right man for this team.
"We're here, because we're proud to be Jets," Idzik said after the game. "We wear the logo and the colors with pride. We're here because we're confident—not cocky, we're confident. We know what we're capable of doing and we know where we're going. We know who wears all those traits on his sleeve for everyone to see every single day: this man right here."
Those traits were enough to help the rebuilding Jets get to 8-8, an 8-8 which looks and smells a lot better than the 8-8 Dolphins, who pushed their chips to the middle to make a run at the playoffs.
The good news is, the Jets don't have to suffer the same misfortunes again in 2014. If the Jets make some cuts—cornerback Antonio Cromartie, quarterback Mark Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, to name a few—they could be sitting with around $50 million in cap space and as many as 12 draft picks stockpiled for 2014.
Those are plenty of resources for the Jets to make a lot of noise this offseason.
In order to do that, though, some changes are necessary. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Idzik is pushing Ryan to make changes on defense.
The GM may be asking the formerly rotund head coach to round out his game.
Idzik needs to continue to see growth, and one area Ryan must grow in is his dealings with the offense.
In that respect, any dealings would be considered growth, as Rex hasn't handled offensive responsibilities in at least two years—both Tony Sparano and Marty Mornhinweg had autonomy over the offense in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Sugarcoat the accomplishments of this season's Jets all you want, but one unavoidable truth is that the team has proven incapable of developing a quarterback under Ryan thus far. It remains to be seen whether it will take more involvement from the head coach to make that happen.
The improvements on offense aren't the only thing that's needed from Ryan in order to prove himself worthy of staying beyond 2014.
For the first time in Ryan's coaching tenure, the Jets' defense regressed this season. The Jets finished 11th in total defense, the first year outside the top 10 since Ryan joined Gang Green. The team's pass defense, once considered the most stifling in all of football, was below average in nearly every category that matters.
|New York Jets defense, past 3 yrs. (NFL rank in parenthesis)|
|Year||Yards||Points||Pass comp. %||Yards/pass att.||Passer rating||Yards/rush att.|
|2011||4,993 (5)||363 (20)||54.2 (4)||6.7 (6)||69.6 (3)||3.9 (6)|
|2012||5,174 (8)||375 (20)||53.8 (2)||6.5 (6)||78.2 (7)||4.3 (20)|
|2013||5,359 (11)||387 (19)||58.9 (8)||7.1 (15)||86.5 (20)||3.4 (1)|
|Pro Football Reference|
The Jets are counting on Ryan, a defensive mastermind, to stick around and fix the woes of the once-proud unit.
Offensively and defensively, the burden doesn't fall on Ryan alone. One talking point all season and throughout this very column has been the Jets' lack of talent in key spots.
It would help, first of all, if the Jets were playing their best players and the younger players with the most upside. It will forever remain a mystery why the Jets went with Ed Reed over Antonio Allen at safety in the second half of the season.
Ryan must do a better job of evaluating his own talent, but Idzik must continue to find talent from the outside.
In the secondary, Cromartie regressed, was hobbled all season and is grossly overpaid for next season at $14.98 million. Kyle Wilson hasn't panned out in his four years after being selected in the first round. After struggling all year, Dee Milliner finally began showing signs of growth over the last two games.
At receiver, it's the same story with a different cast of characters.
Santonio Holmes was injured for a majority of the season and will likely be a $9.25 million cap casualty. Stephen Hill has failed to develop the areas of his game that needed improvement when the Jets selected him in the second round. David Nelson is the lone receiver who emerged as a bright spot down the stretch.
Such problems exist at several positions on the roster. The Jets lack depth at tight end, running back, linebacker, safety, guard and quarterback, too.
Indeed, Ryan has his work cut out for him in 2014, and so does Idzik. One offseason won't change everything, but as has been the case throughout the Ryan era, the Jets won't back down from any challenge.