The Fall Guy
It has never been a better week to play the blame game and make Rex Ryan the loser every time, but jumping on the Jets' fifth-year head coach alone is viewing the chaotic events of last Saturday night’s New York Bowl in total isolation. Ryan may be the biggest, easiest target here—although clearly not as big as he once was, in the literal sense—but he’s not the only one deserving to draw a blanket of unrelenting fire.
Mark Sanchez’s fourth-quarter shoulder injury should have never happened. Period. But I could say that about any number of curious and stupefying decisions that have been made in the Jets organization the past few years, and many of them can’t be traced to Ryan. And even the ones that can still pale compared to the blunders made above his pay grade.
So go ahead and pin the tail of fault on this donkey, but don’t forget to save some blame for that shadowy figure standing way in the back, out of the spotlight. The one who answers to "Woody."
Ryan is the guy taking all the punches this week, while, somehow, the one who set up this whole doomed boxing match—Jets owner Woody Johnson—is watching unnoticed and unassailed from ring side. If we step back from the firestorm of the moment for just a bit, we can see the question of which struggling Jets quarterback (Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith) gets to preside over the dreadful season of football to come in New York isn’t really the most important story here.
The big-picture issue that matters most is Johnson’s lousy leadership of a franchise that continues to make bad decisions with predictably bad results. The Jets are becoming adept at assembling all the ingredients for disaster, playing around with them, and then watching with chagrin as they blow up in their face (see Tebow, Tim). And by now, we’re inclined to look New York’s way at all times, because the explosions keep coming at such a steady pace.
Johnson keeps pushing back against the "circus"’ label that has been attached to his team, calling it patently unfair. And he’s partly right. But his argument would get much stronger if the Jets could keep the jugglers and the clowns away for a full season. And alas, 2013 is not shaping up to be that year of legitimacy.
For starters, it was kind of easy to foresee that the shotgun marriage of new general manager John Idzik and an embattled holdover head coach in Ryan was a bad idea with little or no chance of success. But Johnson likes Ryan and decreed it be that way, despite few recent historical examples where such an arrangement worked long-term in the NFL.
It didn’t work twice for the Bears: The Jerry Angelo-Dick Jauron tandem was short-lived, as was the Phil Emery-Lovie Smith combination. It didn’t work in Cleveland when Mike Holmgren chose to keep Eric Mangini for another worthless season. And ultimately it didn’t work in San Diego, where A.J. Smith inherited Marty Schottenheimer, then proceeded to battle with him for three years while the team was compiling AFC West titles but no real playoff success.
Forcing a new general manager to keep a head coach usually results in a power struggle and a coaching change, and it’s the rare situation where success ensues. The Giants in 2007 were able to transition seamlessly from Ernie Accorsi to Jerry Reese at general manager while Tom Coughlin remained the coach, but it helped considerably that Reese was elevated into the job from within the organization, and wasn’t coming from the outside with his own set of experiences and power base.
So Idzik and Ryan set off to do business together, and what has Ryan gotten out of the deal so far? With Idzik determined to clean up the team’s salary cap mess—which Johnson allowed to develop under the tenure of former GM Mike Tannenbaum—the Jets took Ryan’s oft-avowed best player, cornerback Darrelle Revis, and shipped him off in trade to Tampa Bay. Then Idzik and the front office lined up behind the drafting of second-round quarterback Geno Smith, a pick that clearly complicated the Jets quarterback situation and was rife for creating more melodrama for Ryan.
So while the Jets rot away this year in the AFC East, cleaning up their cap situation and making a serious run at the Jadeveon Clowney draft slot in 2014, Ryan is the guy who will be left twisting in the wind. He’ll be sent out there on a weekly basis to take the heat, and then, when the debacle is finished, he’ll undoubtedly take the fall.
Ryan is far from blameless in this mess, and he’s made his share of mistakes, with self-created problems aplenty. But he’s also a good coach with a pretty decent track record as a head coach (making the playoffs half the time will get you a job in this league), and he shouldn’t even be in this no-win situation. Whether he admits it or not, Johnson has set Ryan up to fail this season, and I’m convinced he and his Jets are going to get it done.
Given the inevitability of it all, I can understand why Ryan lost it a little bit in his post-game news conference Saturday night. He can see where this thing is heading, and the Sanchez injury that he allowed to happen is just another brick in the wall that will eventually cave in on him. What do you want to bet that Johnson, the architect of the Jets collapse, gets away relatively unscathed?
They say in the NFL that head coaches and quarterbacks get too much of the credit when they win and too much of the blame when they lose, and that’s usually the case. But in New York this year, that handy rule of thumb really shouldn’t apply. When the Jets go down in flames this season, most of the fault should belong to the guy at the top. The Jets are Woody Johnson’s team, and this is definitely a disaster of his making.