2014 a Make-or-Break Season for Rex Ryan and the Jets

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2014 a Make-or-Break Season for Rex Ryan and the Jets
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Since the New York Jets left Heinz Field on a cold winter night in January 2011, Rex Ryan has been defending his right to remain as head coach of the Jets every step of the way.

The truth is, while Ryan is not to blame for the Jets' downfall since their initial successes in 2010 and 2011, the Jets have yet to come remotely close to those heights since then, leaving Ryan in the hot seat on what appears to be an annual basis.

For as great of odds as Ryan has overcome to get to where he is today to coach the 2014 Jets, he has a better chance of being fired after this season than he did in any other turmoil-ridden offseason during his tenure.

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At the end of the disastrous 2012 campaign that fielded a team that was infinitely more embarrassing and inept than its 6-10 record would suggest, it was all but assumed that Ryan, working on the final two years of his contract, would be a sacrificial lamb in a rebuilding season with a depleted roster under new management.

Yet somehow, Ryan found a way to beat the odds once again and still has a parking spot at One Jets Drive—but for how much longer?

Getting the Jets (who were leaders in the playoff hunt at one point) back into respectable territory with an 8-8 record was a miniature miracle in 2013. Just months after watching his career get hung right in front of him, Ryan was being celebrated as some sort of hero for winning two meaningless games to get to .500.

Keeping his job beyond this season will prove to be an even more daunting task. In fact, considering how much more difficult it is to make the playoffs than it is to merely reach the .500 mark, Ryan has a better chance of losing his job this year than last year, which was assumed by many to be his last year.

For accomplishing the most unlikely 8-8 season in recent memory, Ryan was rewarded with an extension—of one season. Essentially, Ryan was told: "Nice job, Rex. Do it again."

Ryan is armed with an upgraded roster and a young quarterback who has a year of experience under his belt, but as Uncle Ben Parker would say, with great power comes great responsibility for Ryan.

No longer will "getting back to respectability" be so warmly welcomed. No longer is Ryan playing the role of the martyr—he is back to being the engineer of a solid, well-rounded roster that is supposed to win in the immediate future.

And that is exactly what he must do to keep his job.

Without ever once winning the division, Ryan has survived three straight seasons of playoff absence, a front-office regime change and some embarrassing off-field moments. It could easily be argued that the Jets can thank Ryan for being the driving force of the success they enjoyed during his tenure, but plenty of coaches have been fired for less.

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John Idzik took a leap of faith when deciding to keep Rex Ryan.

General manager John Idzik's decision to keep Ryan on as head coach on the heels of an 8-8 season was sound, yet unconventional. Most general managers get a chance to pick their own coach upon their hiring, and simple odds make it unlikely that the incumbent coach (who was likely coaching a losing team at the time) would be seen as the right man for the job.

However, when the Jets were searching for their new general manager in 2013, the job was unique (and to some, undesirable) in that there was a well-known stipulation in place that owner Woody Johnson had every intention to keep Ryan for at least one more season.

As bad as the Jets were to be in need of a new personnel man, deep down Johnson must have known that Ryan was a victim of a losing situation and that the previous front-office regime was to blame.

Now, Ryan needs to prove to his loyal owner that he made the right call by not wasting any more time in so-called rebuilding years.

Just like in all sports, every NFL team goes through rebuilding cycles in its history. However, NFL rebuilds are extremely fast compared to other sports thanks to high amounts of roster turnover every season.

After adding a whopping 12 draft picks and a handful of high-profile free agents who include Chris Johnson, Michael Vick and Erick Decker, Ryan can no longer point to his talent as an excuse for failing. The Jets have room to improve their imperfect roster, but they are more than capable of a lot more than playing the "playoff spoiler" role at the end of the season.

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New additions such as Eric Decker give Ryan no excuse to not win this season.

Now in his sixth year on the job—the only coach still standing among the 2009 hires—there is no more mystery surrounding what Ryan brings to the table as a coach. Top-notch defensive structure is a mainstay, as is a loose atmosphere and a desire to win with brute force and physicality above all else.

If Johnson had a problem with how Ryan was running the show, he would have closed the curtains by now. Scarred by the uptight, secretive days of the Eric Mangini era, Johnson likes how Ryan runs his business.

Still, at the end of the day, results must follow, and the key to Ryan getting the results his owner and general manager need to keep him around lies within the right arm of Geno Smith.

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For the second-round West Virginia prospect, this is also a make-or-break season. The fact that the Jets brought in the top backup quarterback on the market in Vick shows that they are clearly not content with the play they received from the position last year.

Essentially naming him the starter before the season begins signals that they do not want to waste any extra time finding out whether or not Smith is capable of being anything more than a mid-level pro.

If Smith crashes and burns midseason, Ryan does have Vick as a fallback option to lean on to save the season. However, not only are the odds of a 34-year-old Vick saving a season unlikely at best, but Smith would go down as yet another quarterback to fail under Ryan's management.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that Smith's development will have a domino effect on the success of the rest of the team. If Smith is successful in 2014, not only will the Jets stand a good chance of going to the playoffs, but Ryan will also prove that he is capable of fielding a winning offense when provided the correct pieces.

Now, this is not to say the Jets need to go out and blow out the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl for Ryan to prove his worth. There are two sticking points Ryan must hit on to prove to management and ownership that he is the right man for the job in the long term: Get his team back into the playoffs, and develop Geno Smith into franchise player.

It was not long ago that Ryan was on track to deliver the Jets their first Super Bowl in over 40 years with Mark Sanchez calling the shots. This makes the idea of him finish the task with Geno Smith not as crazy of a proposition as one would imagine.

Ryan is and has always been a brilliant coach, but if he is to cement his legacy with the New York Jets as his coaching talent suggests he should, he needs to prove that he can deliver results once again in the 2014 season.

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