(Note: Normally I would post this to my Jets site but for ease of posting I decided to post at OTC)
As the Jets moved to 7 wins I have seen a number of people stating that this is the best job that Rex Ryan has ever done coaching the Jets and that he deserves another season. Im not sure I agree with either, but let’s examine further
The “Best Job” Ever Done?
That would seem to be a stretch. While, on paper, the Jets had some expectations in 2012, expectations that were bolstered by the ridiculous trade for QB Tim Tebow, how much of the roster is that different than the team that Ryan went 6-10 with?
First let’s compare the offensive starters in 2012 versus 2013 in terms of snaps played:
Is this that much worse of a group? Sanchez, a horrible veteran, was replaced by Smith, a pretty horrible rookie. The RB grouping of Greene and Powell in 2012 was replaced by the RB duo of Powell and Ivory in 2013. At worst that’s a push. The receivers and tight ends were the same. The lone significant downgrade on the team was Slauson to Winters and Ryan never seemed to care much for Slauson to begin with.
How about on defense?
|S||L. Landry||D. Landry|
I’d say the major downgrades here were at the Safety spots where Dawan was not as good as his brother and Allen not as consistent as Bell. The Jets did play 2012 for the most part without a Defensive Tackle because Sione Pouha was almost always injured so in many cases DeVito played the interior with Coples coming down and either Bryan Thomas or Garret McIntyre standing up. Those problems did not exist in 2013.
When it comes to evaluating the roster itself it stunk in both years. The main difference is there were simply expectations in 2012 and none in 2013. How did the overall results compare between the two seasons:
|10+ point wins|
|17+ point losses|
|10+ point losses|
|Margin of victory|
|Margin of loss|
We saw an increase of 1 in quality win, which is simply defined as a win against a team with a record above 0.500. That would be the win against the Saints. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. The Jets continued to get blown out in 2013 against what is a similar schedule as they faced in 2013. It is not as if this was a more difficult job. It was essentially the same job with the same pieces and same results. The major difference this year? Lavonte David pushed Geno Smith in week 1 to set up a 48 yard field goal for a win instead of a loss.
Rex Ryan did a far better job in 2009 and 2010 with the team. The 2009 team faced adversity late in the year and found a way to overcome it. The 2010 team faced playoff adversity and overcame it. I don’t think 2013 is any gigantic improvement over 2012 as people say, nor were more losses suffered off the field, unless Sanchez being injured because Ryan decided to play him to win a Snoopy trophy is considered equivalent to Revis being injured.
The Players Love Him
In week 16 the Jets beat the four win Cleveland Browns in a meaningless game with Ryan providing the motivation by saying he was going to be fired. According to many this win alone proves Ryan should stay. Where was the love in week 11 or 13 when the games mattered and the playoffs were on the line against the Bills and Dolphins? The Jets lost by a combined score of 60-17. Since 2011 the Jets have faced a number of critical games where winning was pretty much needed to stay in the race. Last year they fell flat against the Titans in a game where Sanchez imploded but Ryan did not want to pull the trigger on him because he made the mistake of making Tebow active for the game. In 2011 they had the epic 3 game collapse down the stretch. So making this Browns game into something it’s not is really ridiculous.
Secondly is it that big of a deal even if they do love him? One of the reasons certain players are very vocal about Ryan is likely their own futures. Players gain the trust of certain coaches and have an inside track on jobs if the coach remains in place. It’s an audition that begins in the summer and goes all season long. Willie Colon and David Nelson both stepped up and spoke up for Rex. Their futures are likely tied to Rex being the coach of the Jets. So might be the futures of many players on the team. Most of the players won’t be part of the future of this organization. Its good that they fight for him and better than the alternative, but not important for the future.
At Least Give Him a Fair Chance in 2014
Nobody should even be bringing this point up. Ryan can not be coach of the Jets for just one more season. If the team is going to keep him it has to be long term. This was a transition year for the Jets. They signed a number of players to one year contracts or multi year deals that had no guaranteed money to protect a roster spot. The Jets will be loaded with cap space in 2014, well over $40 million, once they make the initial releases of Holmes, Cromartie, and Sanchez, and will probably have between 10 and 12 picks in the draft factoring in the Darrelle Revis trade and compensatory selections. The Jets starting right tackle, tight end, right guard, safety, and outside linebacker are all unrestricted free agents in 2014. They could release a starting inside linebacker, cornerback, and safety.
The Jets will look very different in 2014. All things considered you could be looking at over 10 new starters and 15 new meaningful faces. You do not overhaul a football team like that and maintain a lame duck coach. That is counterproductive to the entire organization. In many ways it was already counterproductive to bring in a rookie QB and pair him with a coach twisting in the wind but whats done is done. The commitment to Ryan has to be long term if it occurs, not another wait and see season.
Should He Stay or Go
Ryan has a pretty large sample size by which we can evaluate him. To try to boil this down to the last two games of the 2013 season is foolish. Odds are the Jets organization made their preliminary decisions when they were hired and swaying that opinion was only going to occur based on actually working with him during the year not by anything accomplished on the field. The Jets were not a playoff team in 2013 and to have expected that was ridiculous. In the NFL these moves are made all the time, just look at Lovie Smith in Chicago last season. The only person who probably saved their job by coaching record was Ron Rivera in Carolina, a team that had a one year window before they will likely begin to see some parts fall by the wayside due to cap considerations.
Ryan has five seasons by which the Jets can judge him. While the last few years the defense has been overrated I think it’s fair to say that Ryan is going to field a good defense more often than not and he is one of the rare coaches that can put together a gameplan to neutralize an elite level Quarterback. Very few coaches have that ability and it is a major strength. If the Jets fire Ryan they are not keeping him on staff as a coordinator so if he is fired the Jets lose that edge.
Offensively it is a struggle for him. Ryan has gone through three offensive coordinators in his five year tenure, all supposedly agreed on by him, though there were rumblings that Tony Sparano was forced on him. All three have performed poorly. Ryan has had an opportunity to develop a top five pick at the position in Sanchez and failed miserably. Tebow was a first rounder and never got a sniff. Smith had a first round grade to some but fell to the Jets in round 2. He has been pretty poor most of the season and has been benched a few times due to poor play. Some of the blame has to go on Ryan for that.
I can see why this is a difficult decision for the team. Rex is very popular and is the face of the franchise. He also covers for the fact that the current front office is not very forthcoming or open to the media or fans. If the Jets bring in a coach that does fit the personality of John Idzik it will be completely back to the days of Eric Mangini where he refused to do weekly live phone interviews and required interviews to be taped at practice.
But if you keep Ryan you have to commit to a very specific style of football. It’s a style that is outdated in the NFL. That does not mean that it can not work, but you can not just assume that the offensive problems will fix themselves because Ryan says he will change. Coaches do evolve but usually that happens after they are fired. Bill Belichick probably never evolves if he does not fail in Cleveland. Tom Coughlin probably never evolves if he never was let go by the Jaguars. Having to take a step back and actually look at your failures while sitting on the sidelines is an easier way to improve than working through it on the job.
You are most likely not going to build a long term solution with a draft built offense and Ryan. That is how most teams attempt to build but Ryan has failed in that regard. If the Jets keep Ryan you are going to have to build differently. You are going to have to buy a mid level “professional” QB. In the immediate future that probably means Matt Schaub or Kyle Orton. Perhaps Jay Cutler but I think he would be too up and down. Chad Henne and Matt Moore would also be available and maybe a team gets interested in Josh McCown. Down the line you might be able to consider Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, or Ben Roethlisberger if the Steelers foolishly made him available.
Free agency is going to be met with overspending on linemen and consistent wide receivers. It would be all about rebuilding what the team had in 2009 with Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Braylon Edwards, and Jerricho Cotchery. While the players were not going to make anyone cringe on paper they helped bring an identity to the team that meshed with Ryans’ beliefs. If Ivory can stay healthy he is the runner to work in that system.
Where the Jets failed in 2011 and 2012 is they tried to replace parts with draft picks (Hill, Slauson. Ducasse, Greene, etc…) and “high impact” wideouts (Holmes, Burress) when they really needed developed team oriented players. Holmes was successful in 2010 because he was a complementary piece to the lunchpail players that were employed by the Jets. Greene was a fine depth player that could do well off the bench but as a starter behind the line the Jets trotted out there he was a below average running back.
Defensively you have to stay the course and keep getting Ryan athletic talent that he can mold and maybe one decent free agent. The building blocks are there on the defensive line. Quinton Coples is about ready to become a household name as a pass rusher. Dee Milliner has begun to show a pulse. Get quicker on the inside and find another pass rusher and you will have a defense that can rank right up there with what the 49ers and Seahawks are trotting out year after year.
But you are going to have to build defense first and find a way to piece together a professional offense that doesn’t need the coaching or attention from Ryan. Does Idzik want to do that? That is the question that should be asked right now, not “how can you fire Rex after getting to 7 or 8 wins with this talent”. If Idzik does not believe in building a team that way then keeping Ryan on is a pointless exercise. Philosophically it has to match up.
The strength or Ryan’s resume is not regular season success. He has only won 10 games once in his five years with the Jets. His reputation is built on postseason upsets and a quality defense that won some games in spite of the offense that he helped run into the ground. Ryan isn’t Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, or Marty Schottenheimer who year after year after year put forth good records and would never succeed when it counted.
That said the same risk is there with Ryan as there was with these three, with the system that will be run if Ryan is the head coach. Schottenheimer never won. Dungy won one time despite lucking into a job with Peyton Manning. Cowher was the only one whose system itself produced a Super Bowl winner, and that was once in 15 tries. All told it was a great deal of regular season success and a great deal of heartache in the playoffs. Just based on what we have seen the expectation has to be that Ryan can be a bit more Coughlin than Dungy. Ryan can get his team hot at the right times, despite very inconsistent play, and win a Super Bowl. From what we have seen with those upsets early in his coaching career and to a lesser extent the wins over Tom Brady and Drew Brees this season it is an argument that can at least be made.
If that argument is compelling enough than by all means keep Rex Ryan. But in this day and age I have a hard time believing that someone who has done nothing but feed on the bottom and get blown out by the top for the last two seasons is going to be given the type of team he needs to work with to get the most out of him and the team. For what its worth this is the same approach the Ravens more or less employed with Brian Billick when they realized his attempts to develop an offense were killing the team and they signed an ancient Steve McNair in 2006. It worked for one season before McNair broke down and Billick was promptly fired. Do Jets fans want to have to wait another two or three seasons to completely turn the page the way the Ravens did? I don’t and I doubt too many others want to either.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.