Coming into the 2013 season, a popular narrative around the football world was that Rex Ryan was on the hot seat and would be gone in 2014. Hell, many people thought he would be the first coach fired during the season. Some incredibly even called for him to be fired during the PRE-season! According to all these experts, the writing was on the wall: There was a new GM in town who couldn’t possibly want Rex to stay around, and the embattled coach was saddled with a terrible team that had no chance to win enough games for him to keep his job. We heard it all. “Circus… Buffoon… Dead Man Walking…” Well not only did Rex show that he shouldn’t be fired, he’s shown that the Jets should go ahead and give him a contract extension. Not after the season; Now.
It may seem like that’s a rash thing to say and too reactionary based off the huge win in Atlanta, but it’s not. Extending Rex Ryan is something the Jets should have done this offseason so that him and Idzik could be in this together 100% and build something for the future. As far back as April I thought Rex should be extended and there are many reasons for it. Rex is the right man for the job in 2014 and here’s why…
The Defense – Any discussion about Rex Ryan and this Jets team begins with the defense. Rex is the best defensive coach in the NFL and he’s showing that again this year. After the trade of Darrelle Revis everyone thought the defense was going to take a step back, but they forgot to account for Rex Ryan being in charge of the unit, which was a pretty huge oversight.
Rex has rebuilt the defense — his pride and joy — with a dominant defensive front that can pressure the quarterback and allow him to dial up his exotic looks after using smoke and mirrors the past two years to cover up some pretty big holes. He also decided to go back to his roots and become the de-facto defensive coordinator himself and call all of the defensive plays, which was the smartest thing he could have possibly done. As Rex has evolved as a coach, he’s realized what works and what doesn’t. The CEO-type approach where he oversees all the areas of the team without getting totally involved didn’t work for him. Rex is at his best when he’s all-in on the defense and can leave the offense to a competent coordinator (like Marty Mornhinweg), and that’s exactly what he’s done.
And look at the players Rex has developed on that side of the ball. Mo Wilkerson has become one of the very best players in the league under the watchful eye of Rex Ryan and his lieutenant / defensive line guru, Karl Dunbar. Damon Harrison has developed into a dominant force as a run stuffer after being an undrafted free agent, and Sheldon Richardson looks like a star in the making. Demario Davis has flourished in his second season in the league, and Antonio Cromartie has turned into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL after the Chargers gave up on him. Rex also has the incredible ability to turn journeymen-type players into legit role players, as you can see with guys like Darrin Walls, Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen, Garrett McIntyre, Leger Douzable, and Jaiquawn Jarrett. The man can coach, and not letting him finish what he’s started to build with this young defense would be downright criminal.
Geno Smith - Prior to the Falcons game, there was an awful lot of chatter about how Geno Smith could — should? — be benched in favor of Matt Simms. Yeah, that’s right… Matt Simms. While I thought Geno should absolutely be given all 16 games this season to be evaluated, I had legit concerns that Rex might pull the plug on the rookie and give Simms a shot or wait until The Artist Formerly Known as The Sanchize returned from his injury and throw him right back into the mix. The reason for that is that Rex Ryan is undoubtedly coaching for his job this season and may have been unwilling to live and die with a rookie making a lot of mistakes as he did in 2009. Some of Rex’s comments after the Titans game definitely gave off that impression.
If Rex was given a contract extension and the job security that goes with it, there would be no concern with starting Geno all year and living with the ups and downs. There would be no talk of Matt Simms or how the team needs a “game manager” like Brady Quinn or someone to step in (which is, was, and will always be a ridiculous suggestion). Rex would be willing to live with all of the mistakes because he knows a game-losing interception wouldn’t mean he’s about to lose his job. There would also be no forcing things on Geno or asking him to do things he isn’t ready to do at this stage of his development. Let the kid grow and give Rex the job security to be ok with allowing him to do it at his own pace. This is important.
His Record - There’s also the little matter of his record being pretty darn good as a Head Coach that can’t be overlooked. In 4+ seasons as the man in charge of the Jets, Rex has a record of 41-34, which includes a 4-2 postseason record and two trips to the AFC Championship game. There are a lot of NFL coaches that would kill to have a track record like that. The fact is that Rex is the best coach the Jets have had since.. I don’t even know. Since Weeb Ewbank?! The only coach in the last FORTY YEARS since Weeb left that could even be compared to Rex is Bill Parcells, and he hasn’t been here since 1999. That’s pretty depressing, actually. Anyway, the point is that Rex is a very good coach and he should get the credit he deserves for that. We’ve had to deal with a lot of crappy coaches over the years as Jets fans, but the team finally got it right when they hired Rex. They can’t mess it up now and lose him.
Players Love Him - This is something that absolutely can’t be disputed. The Jets players love Rex Ryan and they play hard for him. Even when things are down in the dumps for the Jets, the players go out there and give it everything they have for him. There is no quitting or throwing in the towel with a Rex Ryan-coached team and we’ve seen that even as 2012 was going right into the toilet.
Even when disgruntled former players like Ladainian Tomlinson bash the organization to try and further their pathetic media careers, you never hear them say a bad word about Rex Ryan. Bart Scott (who is great on TV) loves Rex and agrees he should get a contract extension. Damien Woody (also great on TV) has had nothing but great things to say about Rex as well. And that’s not to mention the things the current players say.
Calvin Pace has been outspoken on numerous occasions about how much the team respects and loves playing for Rex as has Antonio Cromartie. And you can also see what a great job Rex has done motivating his players with the “Nobody believes in us” card throughout 2013. When a player like Pace says “Everybody is like ‘Shit on the Jets. We believe in Rex. We believe in each other.” following a huge win, you can see how much they want Rex to be their coach and that they’re willing to do whatever he asks of them. When you look around the league and see players give up on coaches like Greg Schiano and Ron Rivera (and Tom Coughlin?), you appreciate having a guy like Rex around.
Rex 2.0 - As I wrote back in April, this offseason Rex became a new man. He toned things down with his bold statements and started giving the media nothing juicy in his press conferences. He hired a respected offensive coordinator and handed him the keys to the car while he went back to what he does best, and so far the results have been extremely encouraging. Rex may seem like a different man these days, and maybe in a lot of ways he is, but deep down he’s still the same guy and that’s the man that the players see behind closed doors. He’s still the same guy that the players would run through a wall for, and he’s still the same terrific coach who got a team quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez to two straight AFC Championship games.
The only difference is that Rex has evolved, as all good coaches do. The media and many “experts” interpreted this as a bad thing for some reason and thought it meant he wasn’t the right man for the job anymore. I couldn’t disagree more, and John Idzik shouldn’t wait til after the season to do the right thing and give Rex Ryan a contract extension. Rex has earned it, and he’s the man that should be leading the Jets in 2014 and beyond.
Too many times you see terrific coaches have some success in their first go-round as a Head Coach, get fired after a rough patch, and then go on to flourish elsewhere after they’ve evolved as a coach and had a chance to really get things right. We saw this happen with Bill Belichick in New England, Tom Coughlin with the Giants, and Mike Shanahan in Denver. Well, Rex has reached that “second phase” of his career, and the Jets are lucky that he didn’t have to go to another team to do it. He’s a Jet now and he should be a Jet going forward. It’s time for Idzik to do what needs to be done: Extend Rex Now.