Rex Ryan’s sixth year as head coach of the Jets will almost certainly end the way each of his last three seasons ended: with New York missing the playoffs. While that lack of success often leads to a coach getting fired after just a couple of down seasons, Ryan’s career in New York — in many more ways than what will be described below — has been a unique one. If so inclined, one could argue that no coach has done more with less than Ryan.
To make that statement, one simply needs to define “more” as “win games” and “less” to mean “having an efficient passing offense.” From 2009 to 2013, the Jets averaged just 4.60 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, which was 1.21 ANY/A below league average. That was the 2nd worst performance over that period, ahead (just barely) of the Cleveland Browns.1
The metric ANY/A correlates very strongly with winning percentage, but here’s the weird part: New York has averaged 8.4 wins per year over those five years, making the Jets a slightly above average team. For reference, the other four teams in the bottom five in ANY/A averaged just 5.6 wins per season. New York has been a crazy outlier: none of the other teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in ANY/A posted a winning record during that time span.
Take a look at the graph below. The Y-Axis shows wins per year, while the X-Axis depicts ANY/A relative to league average from 2009 to 2013. The Jets are the biggest outlier in that group, with only the Ravens coming anywhere near the Jets level of “overachievement.”
From 2009 to 2013, Ryan’s Jets far exceeded expectations, at least if one was to define expectations based purely on the team’s pass offense. But how does Ryan rate historically? I looked at every team season from 1970 to 2013, and noted each team’s winning percentage and Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (i.e., ANY/A minus the league average ANY/A rate). As it turns out, an additional yard in ANY/A relative to league average is worth 1.756 wins. Think of it this way: a team with a league-average passing attack should be expected to win 8 games, while a team that’s 1.0 ANY/A above league average should finish with about 9.76 wins. To be expected to win 11 games, a team needs to finish about 1.71 ANY/A above league average.
In 2009, the Mark Sanchez-led passing attack finished with just a 3.96 ANY/A, which gave the Jets a Relative ANY/A of -1.69. Against that backdrop, New York would have been expected to win just 5.03 games; since the Jets won 9 games, the team (and Ryan) is credited with 3.97 wins above expectation. In fact, the Jets have “exceeded expectations” every full year of Ryan’s tenure:2
Over five years, the Jets won 12.7 more games than you would expect (based solely on the efficiency of the passing offense), or 2.54 more wins per year. Among head coaches from 1970 to 2013 who coached at least three full seasons, that +2.54 mark/year would place Ryan 4th among all coaches over that time period:
|Rk||Coach||RANY/A||Exp Wins/Yr||Act Wins/Yr||Wins/Yr Above Exp||Seasons|
Nick Skorich was the Browns head coach from 1971 to 1974; during that span, his offenses were about as anemic as Ryan’s Jets, but he managed to win 55% of his games with the Browns. The rest of the top five is populated by active coaches. The Harbaugh brothers have been incredibly successful in Baltimore and San Francisco; it’s even more impressive considering that both have far outstripped expectations based solely on passing performance.
Perhaps the best comparison to Ryan is Lovie Smith. The former Bears coach, like Ryan, was able to build great defenses in Chicago. But like Smith, Ryan has been unable to extract positive production out of the quarterback position. Things have not been any better in 2014: for the third straight year, the Jets rank in the bottom five in both passing touchdowns and interceptions.3 Ryan has been through two general managers (Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik), three offensive coordinators (Marty Mornhinweg, Tony Sparano, and Brian Schottenheimer), two quarterbacks (Geno Smith and Sanchez), and a myriad of offensive skill position players. The two constants have been terrible passing attacks and Ryan. He may be one of the best coaches at winning despite poor quarterback play, but solving the quarterback position riddle is the most important part of a head coach’s job. In that area, Ryan has failed beyond a shadow of a doubt.
- And from 2009 through eight weeks of the 2014 season, no team has a worse ANY/A average than New York. [↩]
- That streak, of course, is in jeopardy now, with the Jets 1-7. Although New York again ranks 32nd in ANY/A. [↩]
- To be clear, ranking in the bottom five here means having the most amount of interceptions. [↩]