When the New York Jets were 1-5, we did this deep dive into their organizational situation. Since then, nothing has changed. They duplicated the 1-5 record in their next six games and drifted back into the circus tent they called home in 2012. The quarterback carousel has returned along with leaked stories, conspiracy theories and an apparent divided house. Yet, the Jets house isn’t divided, it is broken. It is broken because it stands on the foundation of a poor coaching staff, convoluted front office and dysfunctional quarterback position.
After losing to the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football in 2012, I e-mailed somebody close to the Jets who is now in the front office of another AFC East team. He said “was told by a coach today that as bad as it looks on the outside, it is ten times worse in the building.” This seemed inconceivable considering how bad it looked on the outside but after reading Collision Low Crossers it made a little more sense. There were rumblings of a falling out between Mike Pettine and other parts of the Jets staff with Rex Ryan due to how the team was run in 2011 and 2012 and the book hinted strongly at it. Whether the rift was serious or not, there has been a systematic erosion of coaching talent in this organization over the past few years.A critical part of being a Head Coach is assembling a strong staff. Every coach needs a support system, proper teachers and people to challenge him. Rex Ryan’s flaws have become abundantly clear the past four years and he is going to lose his job. There is no reason to hammer away anymore at a resume that is looking more and more Herman Edwards-esque by the day. Yet, an underrated part of Rex’s downfall and something to watch as the Jets hire their next head coach is the staff around him.
Rex Ryan wasn’t only fortunate to walk into a talented team in 2009. He was fortunate to walk into a talented coaching staff. Mike Westhoff was in place as the Special Teams Coordinator. Bob Sutton was on the defensive staff. Bill Callahan was on the offensive staff. Rex smartly brought along Mike Pettine, Jim O’Neil and Henry Ellard to compliment them. He also brought on personal friend Jeff Weeks, who would later become a problem for the rest of the coaching staff.
Over time this staff would slowly dissipate. After 2011, Ellard and Callahan chose to pass on contract extensions and left. Weeks was also not brought back, mostly due to the previously linked issues. Rex replaced Ellard with Sanjay Lal. He replaced Callahan with Dave DeGuglielmo. Brian Schottenheimer, who Ryan originally lobbied to keep as his Offensive Coordinator was replaced with Tony Sparano. After 2012, Pettine and O’Neil left together. Sutton went as well. Quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh was released and replaced by Wildcat specialist David Lee. Mike Westhoff retired and had his had chosen assistant Ben Kotwica take over. DeGuglielmo, and Sparano were then canned after one year to be replaced with Mike Devlin and Marty Mornhinweg, respectively. Rex also brought his buddy Weeks back and promoted Dennis Thurman to the Defensive Coordinator spot. Finally, after 2013, Kotwica would be gone as well and replaced by Thomas McGaughey. So yeah…tons of turnover, inconsistency and mediocrity.
Consider that drop off, consistent misses and inability to replenish coaching talent. Where do you think Dennis Thurman, David Lee, Thomas McGaughey, Sanjay Lal, Mike Devlin and even Marty Mornhinweg will be coaching next year? Will any be making a lateral move to a different NFL team or getting promoted into a higher role? It is highly doubtful. When you look at who left, Pettine is now a Head Coach of a 7-5 team with O’Neil as his Defensive Coordinator, Sutton has done a terrific job as the Chiefs Defensive Coordinator, Ellard is coaching wide receivers for the Saints, DeGuglielmo is coaching offensive line for the Patriots and even Schottenheimer is still employed in his same role by the Rams.When looking for their next Head Coach, it is critical he presents a clear vision for the entire staff and team. It isn’t about getting an “offensive” or “defensive” guy. Go hire the best candidate, who is going to be able to build an infrastructure that allows each side of the ball to pick the other two sides up when needed. Chip Kelly is an “offensive guy” but his defense and special teams have carried their team to wins this year. Bruce Arians is an “offensive guy” but his defense is what has made the Cardinals good the past two years. John Harbaugh was a “special teams guy” but has been consistently successful and won a Super Bowl. The Ravens players wanted Rex Ryan as their Head Coach in 2008, the organization chose Harbaugh and chose right, probably because Harbaugh had a clearer vision for the entire team not just defense, defense, defense.
Just like the problems with coaching go beyond Rex Ryan, the problems in the front office go beyond John Idzik. This is a well known issue around the Jets but there are too many cooks in the damn kitchen.
The Senior Personnel Executive? Former Jets GM Terry Bradway who was demoted from that role in 2005. The President? Neil Glat who was hired in Mike Tannenbaum’s last year and reports directly to Woody Johnson. The Director of College Scouting is Jeff Bauer who was hired by Bradway as a scout back in 2002. The Director of Pro Personnel is Brendan Prophett, who has now been with the team for 15 years and rose through the organization under Bradway. Prophett’s Assistant Director is Matt Bazirgan who is another Bradway hire. The Coordinator of College Scouting (Bauer’s #2 guy) is Dan Zbjovsky who was hired under Tannenbaum. Now to be fair, John Idzik has hired 5 of the 7 Jets current college scouts and brought in Rod Graves as the Senior Director of Football Adminstration. However, look at how conflicting the infrastructure is.Idzik has Graves and five college scouts but the top three people in the college scouting power structure are Bradway and two of his hires (Bauer and Zbjovsky). The Director of Pro Personnel and his second in command are both Bradway guys. On top of that you have Neil Glat directly reporting to Woody Johnson and the influence of Johnson’s attorney Ira Akselrad. If this sounds like a confusing mess, it is because it is a confusing mess.
Idzik wasn’t only tasked with a salary cap mess, a Head Coach and a mandate to trade his best player, he was stuck with a front office dominated by personnel from his two predecessors. Shame on Woody Johnson for presenting this situation but also shame on Idzik for allowing this to occur. If Idzik is brought back (a major if at this point), not only does he need to be able to hire his own Head Coach, he needs to clear out Bradway’s influence and personnel from the front office. If you are keeping him as your GM, let him be your GM. If you are going to hire another GM, let him run the organization with his own people. Any “football czar” or consultant the Jets hire is going to recommend the same thing. You cannot have so many differing agendas in the decision making process. Rex wants what he wants. Idzik wants he wants. Bradway wants he wants. Glat and Askelrad want what they want. This is how teams end missing the playoffs four straight years and become a dysfunctional circus every other year.
Many people will look at all these problems and say “that is all well and good but the Jets just need a quarterback.” Unfortunately, it isn’t easy finding a quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Tom Brady don’t grow on trees. If you don’t have one of these generational players, you need to create an environment that allows an average to slightly above average quarterback to flourish to the extent that it allows you to be competitive. Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez aren’t all that good but the Eagles compete and win with them. Carson Palmer was done before coming to Arizona but they won with him. Brian Hoyer and Kyle Orton are the definition of average and both are leading 7-5 teams. Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick are both flawed, slightly above average at best quarterbacks but both have hefty winning percentages and reached NFC Championship Games (with Kaepernick winning one).
If the Jets don’t hit the lottery and find the next Andrew Luck can they build a competent enough support system, both on their coaching staff and front office to still allow the team to compete? This is the key question facing them in the 2015 offseason.