New York Jets – A Rapidly Failing Culture Of Unaccountability

Joe Caporoso on how the Rex Ryan New York Jets got to this point

New York isn’t usually a market that has patience for sustained losing…or much of anything. Four straight non-playoff or non-winning seasons is usually more than enough to have everybody fed up with a constant variable in the equation of losing. In the case of the New York Jets, that hasn’t fully been the case. This article is a look at how the “Rex Ryan Jets” have reached a new low point in his 5.5 year tenure. The problems go beyond him but many of the most critical reasons the Jets have been a below average football team since a 2010 playoff win over New England are directly correlated to their coach.

Woody Johnson generally isn’t a popular owner among Jets fans and media members who cover the team. Owner is a tough thing to complain about because nobody is firing the owner, so spending too much time yelling about it seems senseless. To Johnson’s credit, he has hired three head coaches that brought the Jets to playoffs (Herman Edwards, Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan). He also hasn’t hesitated to spend money to improve the team throughout his tenure by regularly consenting to large contracts and upgrading the team’s practice facility. The Jets went in with the New York Giants for a new stadium and do offer non-PSL season tickets, something the Giants do not (as somebody who owns season tickets without a PSL this may matter more), if you did pay for a PSL this sentence probably falls on deaf ears.

However, there has been an odd ongoing hesitation to cleanly cut ties with problematic situations. This traces back to demoting previous General Manager Terry Bradway before the 2006 season but keeping him within the organization as a Senior Personnel Executive. How often do you see a NFL team fire their GM but keep him in the organization to scout? He is still with the team, despite them being on their second GM since he was demoted and self promoting himself with unprovable claims that make the organization look bad. The team’s current Director of College Scouting, Jeff Bauer, has been with the team since 2002 when Bradway’s regime hired him as an area scout. It is 2014.

We have seen similar situations when Rex Ryan and John Idzik were hired. When Ryan took over as the head coach, he lobbied to keep Brian Schottenheimer as the offensive coordinator. The logic at the time was keeping continuity on offense and that he wasn’t fully comfortable running that half of the team. When Idzik was hired, it was widely known that a prerequisite for taking the Jets GM job was keeping Ryan. This was an uncommon stipulation that kept many candidates away from the position. When you couple that with immediate pressure to trade the team’s injured best player (Darrelle Revis) because the owner and team’s front office had a broken relationship with his management, this wasn’t an easy situation to walk into. Idzik has done an uneven job at best in his limited time here and is creeping towards hot seat territory in many people’s mind, even though Mike Tannenbaum’s team started 1-8 in his second season and he lasted five more years.

Today, let’s focus on the coach who is now currently 43-45 overall here and steamrolling to his fourth straight non-playoff season. A common line of rhetoric from some fans and people looking at the team is basically this: Poor Rex. This team never gets him any support. This is a great coach. Go get him a good quarterback, offensive line, some receivers, a top flight running back, a bunch of corners and he can’t lose. Dump the GM. Dump the QB. Dump the OC. Help him out or let him walk and watch him rip off a bunch of Super Bowls in Atlanta or somewhere else.

There are shreds of truth in that line of rhetoric but also a ton of oversight, false victimizing and an enormous overrating of Ryan’s overall ability.

Ryan inherited a talented team in 2009 that was stocked up thanks to the drafts of Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini, along with their aggressive spending prior to 2008. Yes, the head coach was involved in the draft process with Tannenbaum, just like he is under Idzik.

Cornerstones of that 2009 team were Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Brandon Moore, Thomas Jones, Brad Smith, Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery, Calvin Pace and Shaun Ellis, who were all acquired before Rex got here. Post Rex, they supported this talent with Bart Scott, Braylon Edwards, Jim Leonhard, Marques Douglas and the 2009 draft class (three total players). They also whiffed on additions like Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland (due to injury). Rex took this pre-made team, with the best offensive line in the NFL, 1,400 yard running back and a handful of key pieces on defense and got them to 7-7, while hiding his rookie quarterback. We all know what happened in 2009 and how the Jets managed to get in the playoffs. Rex then coached his ass off for two straight road playoff wins before falling short in the 2009 AFC Championship Game.

In 2010, Rex was given the keys to a team good enough to win the Super Bowl. The core of the team was still Mangini/Tannenbaum acquisitions but they were supported by Rex/Tannenbaum acquisitions like Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Matt Slauson, LaDainian Tomlinson and a few more. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was better than in 2009 and the Jets nearly did win the Super Bowl but showed up woefully unprepared for the AFC Championship Game.

That is where the successful part of this story ends. Collision Low Crossers remains mandatory reading for any Jets fans or somebody who wants to debate Rex Ryan because of just how many problems it accurately foreshadowed for this team. Let’s look at the numbers since that year kicked off:

  • Two General Managers. Three Offensive Coordinators. Two primary starting quarterbacks. Two Defensive Coordinators.
  • 23 wins. 33 losses. Twelve losses by 20 points or more (five of them to non-playoff teams, six if Buffalo doesn’t make it this season). Ten additional losses by 10 points or more (six of them to non-playoff teams).
  • A 8-12 record against the AFC East, including losses by 19, 23 and 20 points to the Buffalo Bills, losses by 21 and 20 points to the Miami Dolphins and losses by 30 and 21 points to the New England Patriots.
  • Three sideshow, “rock bottom” occurrences (The final game in 2011, the entire 2012 season and right now).
  • One Head Coach.

This was a team good enough to make the playoffs in 2011, who underachieved and tanked by losing their last three (two to non-playoff teams). It culminated with Rex’s hand picked captain, Santonio Holmes, getting thrown out of his huddle and Rex admitting “he lost the pulse of the team.” As outlined in the previously mentioned book, the atmosphere around the entire team was toxic all season. To top it off, failed acquisitions and lack of draft success post Mangini began to show an effect. The logic behind adding Derrick Mason was that Rex could control him in the locker room and knew him well from his time in Baltimore. It didn’t work out and they lost Jerricho Cotchery in the process. In retrospect, the Ryan/Tannenbaum duo started off their time together by going 0/7 in the 2009 and 2010 NFL Draft. One of the those seven players are left, Kyle Wilson (a pick Rex was plenty in favor of), and if you have seen Wilson play you likely wish zero of those players were left.

Part of this is on Tannenbaum and now currently with Idzik for allowing Rex too much of a say in personnel manners. We saw this last season with Ed Reed, when his addition knocked ascending safety Antonio Allen out of the lineup and began a season long decline into the mess he is today. In less harmful situations, Rex publicly wanted John Conner, Tahj Boyd, and Scotty McKnight.

Yet, those aren’t killer moves. What has killed Rex Ryan is his inability to develop players, outside of defensive lineman and creating an environment that doesn’t support quarterback growth or offensive football.

Rex has repeatedly admitted to lacking an understanding of offense and has now had two quarterbacks flop under him. Why in the world would anybody give him another young quarterback? Rex can’t coach quarterbacks and so far has not put together a staff that can either. He left full autonomy for Mark Sanchez with Brian Schottenheimer and Matt Cavanaugh, outside of publicly implementing a “Red-Yellow-Green” system for him, then saying the team would throw more in 2011, then saying they were going back to the “Ground and Pound.” Throughout this time, the Jets also regularly ran The Wildcat, despite the league passing it by.

2012? Tannenbaum and Rex brought Tim Tebow in because they had to replace Brad Smith for The Wildcat. The new Offensive Coordinator, Tony Sparano, hired by Rex was best known for you guessed it? The Wildcat! After 2012 was a miserable failure (Rex gets minimal credit for getting 6 wins out of a 4 win roster, thanks to late season 1 point wins over Arizona and Jacksonville’s backups…there shouldn’t be a celebration of mediocrity), Rex moved on to Marty Mornhinweg. However, guess who his quarterback coach hire was? David Lee: Architect of The Wildcat. And yes, the Jets still run The Wildcat when it hasn’t been relevant in the NFL since 2008 and regularly use gadget plays for their backup quarterback…all these offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches later but still with the same offensively clueless Head Coach.

You think it is easy for a quarterback to grow in a culture dominated by defense and making sure the offense stays out of the way? Probably not. It isn’t easy for an entire offense to grow. Rex is the Head Coach, he is responsible for the entire team, not just the defense. The point of the offense under Rex is to hide.

The culture problems expand beyond the quarterback and offensive struggles. Rex Ryan’s Jets can’t handle success. They are 2-12 after their last 14 wins. Think about that stat and what it shows. This is a team that has won back to back games twice since the beginning of the 2012 season. They can be good enough to beat or compete with New England one week but then lose by 40 the next week to Cincinnati or 20 the next week to Buffalo. Is that talent or coaching?  Rex can get his teams up when they are underdogs or when he feels like he has a personal vendetta against the quarterback (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning) but if he doesn’t respect the team or the quarterback or is reading his team’s own press clippings, they sleepwalk on to the field. Beyond that, if Rex respects the opposing team’s style of play too much and recognizes they can’t be bullied (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, even Tennessee) the team no shows. It leaves a small window of games the Jets seem prepared for.

The NFL is a league built for parity and competitive games. You shouldn’t be losing 22/33 games in a three season span by double digits, especially when they are routinely to non-playoff teams. You shouldn’t be losing to a Buffalo by 19 points or more for three straight seasons. We aren’t talking about New England, we are talking about Buffalo. Well coached teams don’t lose that routinely in that fashion.

The locker room issues present in 2011 have festered and still exist, with players complaining about a lack of team preparation and admitting they don’t prepare properly themselves. There is a general lack of accountability. You keep telling everybody you are practicing great, your players start to think they are practicing great even when you are losing every week and appear unprepared. You keep telling everybody how great everybody on your team is, nobody thinks there are any issues and you keep losing every week…and losing badly.

The Rex Ryan Jets are on a 3.5 year trend of being the exact same team. They are going to lose more than they win, frequently in blowout or embarrassing fashion. The situation is going to devolve into a complete mess roughly once every year. They are going to play bad offense. They aren’t going to force turnovers. They aren’t going to make in-game adjustments (as they have regularly been in the bottom half of the league in 3rd quarter scoring and points allowed). They aren’t going to develop much talent in-house. In Tannenbaum and Ryan’s four drafts, the team has developed three competent NFL players who aren’t defensive lineman: Jeremy Kerley, BIlal Powell (doesn’t play anymore) and Demario Davis…again that is it over the course of FOUR drafts. The early returns on the Idzik/Ryan drafts haven’t been promising either but then again Rex couldn’t develop Tannenbaum’s players, why would he be able to develop Idzik’s or another GM’s?

There is also going to be a stubborn lack of adjustments. The Jets are short on personnel but are coached like they still have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in their prime at corner. Rex would rather go down blitzing and getting beat repeatedly in the same way, rather than consistently stick with the zone heavy scheme that allowed them to be competitive against Denver and New England this season. There will also be regular time and sideline management issues with a ton of penalties.

In the right situation, Rex Ryan could be a successful NFL Head Coach. If he has an offensive coordinator who can basically function as a head coach for half of the team, along with a competent quarterback who is supported by an elite offensive line and running game and a veteran heavy presence throughout both sides of the ball, along with talented man-press corners. Unfortunately when there are this many prerequisites for success, it limits how good of an all around coach you really are.

I have no idea if John Idzik can pick a successful head coach. Nobody does. I do know Rex Ryan has performed poorly at his job for the past 3.5 seasons, with two different GMs, three different offensive coordinators, two different defensive coordinators, and two different quarterbacks. He was a good enough coach to win with Mark Sanchez, with Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum’s roster but not a good enough coach to win with Mark Sanchez, with his and Mike Tannenbaum’s roster. So far, he isn’t a good enough coach to win with his and John Idzik’s roster. There is a constant there and it isn’t the GM.

Nobody wanted Idzik fired after 2013, while it was an open debate whether Rex should be brought back, just like it was after 2012…just like it will be after 2014. But are you really going to award four straight non-playoff seasons by giving a coach his third GM, third quarterback and potentially fourth offensive coordinator? Maybe the Jets will give him the Bradway treatment and demote him to defensive coordinator…

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports