New York Jets  

 

Rex Ryan coaching for New York Jets job -- and his NFL future

When it comes to Rex Ryan, I've written both columns at NFL.com ...

I've penned the take explaining why Rex is the perfect guy to handle New York and, one day, lead the Jets to their first Super Bowl title since the days of "Broadway" Joe Namath.

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And I've lambasted Rex, explaining why the Jets made a colossal mistake in retaining the coach after a disastrous 2012 campaign.

In both cases, at both times, I truly believed in what I was writing.

With Rex Ryan, it's never boring. Everything is exceedingly entertaining, and that's part of the problem.

The Jets opened training camp on Thursday, with Ryan entering Year 5 at the helm. His seat appears to be scorching hot. Will he superbly guide this team like he did in his first two seasons on the job, taking Gang Green to back-to-back AFC Championship Games? Will the Jets stumble like they have in the past two seasons, causing Ryan's tenure to end in abject failure? Is the marriage between Ryan and Woody Johnson headed for divorce, despite the owner's well-documented devotion to the coach (and his bravado) over the years?

Actually, there's a bigger picture here, too: Rex Ryan isn't just coaching for his Jets career; he's coaching for the rest of his NFL career.

One successful NFC general manager told me via text message this week, "Rex is a confident guy with a big ego. When he got to the Jets, the personnel was pretty good. For some reason, their talent level has fallen off and it will most likely get him fired. How involved was he in picking the players? Plus, he attached himself to (Mark) Sanchez. I don't think he gets another (head-coaching gig). I think he ends up as a defensive coordinator."

Another NFC GM simply wondered, "Is he worth the headache? Can I sell him to my owner? And the last two years have been really rough."

Rex has created a circus environment with the Jets, and he's the ringmaster. General managers don't want that from their head coach.

Of course, let's not forget about the first two years of the Ryan era in New York, which were glorious. The Jets spoke loudly and brilliantly backed it up with their play on the field. It all stemmed from Rex, who routinely spouted off wild statements. His players loved it, loved him and wanted to prove his braggadocious ways to be correct. These teams had swagger and moxie. The defense was great. The run game, especially with Thomas Jones and a bunch of true pros on the offensive line, would bludgeon you into submission. Rex's Jets beat Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer in the playoffs. You can't take that away.

Yet, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Instead of kicking butt, Rex's recent squads have been the butt of endless jokes, bumbling their way to unfathomable losses and drama at every turn. The Jets of the last two seasons lacked focus and discipline. It seemed like there was no plan in place -- or at least no commitment to stick with it. Sanchez regressed, and Rex seemingly turned a blind eye. One could argue that "the anonymous Jet" has become the most popular player on the team, a representation of infighting, backbiting and a total lack of control.

Ryan has struggled with game and clock management. He is a defensive guru and coaches the game as such. He is so wrapped up in his D that he gives full autonomy to his offensive coordinator. When Brian Schottenheimer benched Santonio Holmes in the final game of the 2011 season for feuding with teammates, Rex wasn't even aware.

And then there was last year's Tim Tebow debacle. Ryan was amped up about acquiring the game's most polarizing player. In theory, the plan was sound: New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano would dust off the Wildcat scheme that brought him prior success with the Miami Dolphins, using Tebow as his new triggerman. But the Jets foolishly overreacted to practice, an area where Tebow's struggles are well-documented, and shied away from truly employing the tactic. Talking to Rex last week in our SiriusXM studios, I told him that I initially bought into the Tebow plan, thinking there was one. Rex insisted that there was -- through hearty laughter. It's funny now, but representative of the utter confusion then.

Speaking of Tebow confusion, why was he even active in that Thanksgiving night blowout loss to the New England Patriots? As Sanchez butt-fumbled the game away, an unhappy MetLife Stadium crowd began chanting for the backup. But Tebow was only available for emergency duty, thanks to two broken ribs. Meanwhile, the Jets other QB, Greg McElroy, was inactive. It was illogical. It was shortsighted. Yet, it was typical.

As Sanchez continued his downward spiral, cementing himself as one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, a change to Tebow or McElroy could've potentially given a life raft to the sinking season. Stubborn Rex went down with the Sanchez ship. He didn't learn.

Speaking with Rex last week, he seemed like, well, Rex Ryan. He had the cat-who-swallowed-the-canary look to him when talking about how underrated his defense is. He spoke candidly about Sanchez needing to protect the ball and declared the quarterback competition with rookie Geno Smith as "truly open." Rex was energized and feeling good.

But the conversation also raised red flags.

Ryan is going back to running the defense, giving the offensive reins to his third coordinator in three years, Marty Mornhinweg. In theory, a fresh set of eyes will help Rex take the Sanchez blinders off. While that's a positive -- in my estimation, Smith winning the QB battle would give Rex the best chance to save his job -- Ryan goes back to running his team like a defensive coordinator.

And how about the new guy running team business, first-year general manager John Idzik? Rex told me, "First off, my relationship with John, we have similar backgrounds, football backgrounds. Both of our fathers were in the NFL. I know what he wants. We want sustainable success. We are right across the board on that. It's a process like anything else. Our draft was outstanding. John is very prepared."

Idzik is certainly in charge. But don't underestimate the power of Johnson, who made it a prerequisite in his general manager search that Rex would stay in place for 2013. Johnson loves when his franchise gets TV/radio attention and craves the back page of the New York tabloids in a Yankees/Giants town. Ryan, win or lose, gives him that. So everything's still somewhat unpredictable.

Rex isn't naïve about his current situation, though, telling me, "As far as me coaching for my job, I never look at it that way. I look at it like 2009. It is a brand new beginning for me. People say whatever they say. I'm excited about it. Any coach loves to teach. And that's what I'm getting back to."

But with the Jets in rebuilding mode and a roster devoid of true talent, it's going to be tough to get back to immediate respectability. On paper, the Jets have one of the five worst rosters in the league heading into camp.

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You know Rex is going to go down swinging, doing it his way. It worked splendidly well in his first two years ... then flamed out in epic fashion in the last two.

Personally, I like Rex. But I now think this is the wrong spot for him, in the wrong city. And he's never grown as a coach.

In a sense, Rex doing things his way is truly admirable. But it might cost him the Jets job -- and his next job.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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