This article should have been written two years ago. At the latest, it should have been written last year. Technically, we’re still a few hours away from the title of this article being accurate and/or breaking news, but there’s no drama left in New York. Ryan is going to be fired as the Jets head coach.
The Jets went “all in” from 2009 to 2011 in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl. New York got very, very close, reaching consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. After the 2008 season, the Jets had a talented roster but were in need of a new head coach and a new quarterback. Then general manager Mike Tannenbaum tabbed Rex Ryan as that man. Ryan retained offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and then New York traded up to acquire Mark Sanchez.
At that point, the fates of Tannenbaum, Ryan, Schottenheimer, and Sanchez were aligned. Other than the owner, the general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator1, and the quarterback may be the four most important men in any football organization. Together, the quartet began a new era of Jets football. And it was very successful… for two seasons.
The 2011 season was very disappointing, with a cherry on top being a disaster of a finale in Miami. The Jets then decided to move on from Schottenheimer, which made sense: things roll downhill in all walks of life, and the NFL is no different. Sure, Sanchez had turned into a bust, and maybe Ryan had lost control of the team, and perhaps Tannenbaum’s drafting had taken a turn for the worse, but maybe, just maybe, the team’s troubles were all the fault of the offensive coordinator! As a first step, keeping the nucleus intact but with a new coordinator made sense: it was the path of least change.
Unfortunately, Schottenheimer’s replacement turned out to be Tony Sparano, so you can imagine how that ended. After the 2012 season, the Jets fired Tannenbaum, and Sparano, and the majority of the defensive coaches moved on, too. ((DC Mike Pettine went to Buffalo,while Ass. HC/LB coach Bob Sutton, Ass. DB coach Jim O’Neil, OLB coach Mike Smith, and Ass. DL coach Anthony Weaver all left, too.) Sanchez was only retained because of his enormous cap figure, but he had also played his last regular season game for the Jets. At that point, firing Rex made a lot of sense.
How do you fire the general manager and turn over both coordinators, but keep the same head coach? In retrospect, that decision set the Jets back two years, but Ryan had always been a fan and media favorite because of his oversized personality. While Ryan was given slack because he reached two AFC Championship Games, that didn’t apply to Tannenbaum or even Schottenheimer because… well, it’s still not quite clear to me why. Ryan’s flaws have always been clear: he struggles as an in-game coach, he can’t ever do anything to fix the offense, his teams are unprepared at least once a month, the complexity of fourth down and two-point conversion decisions overwhelm him, and he’s conservative to a fault.
But his common man personality plus those two title games seemed to inoculate him from criticism. Woody Johnson foolishly (both my opinion at the time, and clearly the appropriate adjective in retrospect) decided to require that the Jets next GM retain Ryan. That move limited the quality of candidates for New York: after weeks of interviews, a search firm, and about fifteen candidate interviews, Johnson settled on Idzik.
Then, the worst thing that could have happened to the Jets in 2013 happened: the team stunk, but it managed to win a bunch of games. Through fifteen weeks, New York was 6-8, and had the 4th worst points differential in the NFL, just one point better than the 2-12 Texans. At that point, the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs, but won two meaningless games at the end of the season. That apparently prompted Johnson and Idzik to retain, a move that was still peculiar to me and set the team back at least one season.
This year? An ugly 3-12 season will end in Miami. Ryan will be gone, for three reasons. The first is the decline in the pass defense. The personnel has declined for the Jets defense, drastically so at cornerback. But the graph below shows the ugly trend: New York’s pass defense has declined under Ryan in four of the last five years, culminating in an ugly performance this year. Regardless of the personnel, 30 passing touchdowns allowed against six interceptions forced is embarrassing. Yes, Ryan’s defense has played well against Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, but it also has been burned by Matt Stafford, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, and Kyle Orton (12 TDs, 0 INTs in four games).
As the Ryan eulogy is given, the pass offense must take center stage. The Jets have had the worst passing offense in the NFL over the last six years. Whether it’s directly Ryan’s fault is a tough question to answer, but the head coach is responsible for the production of the entire team. Ryan has switched quarterbacks, receivers, and offensive coordinators, but the production has always been below average, and in four of six years, in the bottom tier of the league.
Yet the third reason may be the biggest reason why Ryan will be fired later today or tomorrow. It is impossible to come up with a narrative where the Jets will retain Ryan and have a good offense next year. The Jets can’t possibly bring back Ryan, Geno Smith, and Marty Mornhinweg next year and expect fans to believe that the passing attack will go from terrible to above average. Firing Mornhinweg and retaining Ryan is an equally tough pill to stomach: how many offensive coordinators will Ryan be allowed to fire? Drafting another quarterback is perhaps the most absurd solution: maybe Ryan is not the reason for the failure of Sanchez and Smith, but even the Jets fans who are the biggest Ryan supporters don’t want him to be responsible for grooming another rookie quarterback.
If there was a talented veteran quarterback available, then it would make sense to bring back Ryan. If Mike Smith is fired in Atlanta, I could see Ryan doing well with the Falcons. There, he would have Matt Ryan and Julio Jones already in place, and presumably even Ryan couldn’t poison that well. But with the Jets, there is no clear path to envision Ryan guiding a competent Jets offense. After six years, even the most ardent Ryan supporters can agree with that.
- Particularly when the head coach has a defensive background. [↩]