So maybe that title isn’t completely fair. Woody Johnson made the right move to relieve Mike Tannenbaum of his duties. I’ve been calling for Tanny’s dismissal for over 2 months on this blog. And while he isn’t 100% responsible for the state that the Jets are in, he deservedly shoulders much of the blame. What started out as a promising career as a GM just a few years ago came to a crashing halt on the final day of 2012.
That said, leave it to the Jets to even mess up what was an easy decision. For starters, they were the only team on “Black Monday” who didn’t make their leadership available for comment. In fact, they made the effort to cancel a previously planned end of season conference call with Rex Ryan that was scheduled to take place yesterday afternoon. Every other team that fired a coach, GM, etc, made someone in the organization available for questions. The Jets? Radio silence. Unless you count Woody Johnson’s PR statement that was released to the press and emailed to season ticket holders. Many of the Jets’ players were in yesterday, clearing out their lockers, and were thus forced to answer questions about Tannenbaum’s firing, Sparano’s limbo and the vote of confidence given to Rex. It was awkward for the players and it was classic Jets – they can’t even get things right off the field.
There was some speculation earlier in the week that Tannenbaum might get reassigned in the organization, and that speculation was universally and rightfully panned. The idea of him staying on as a “cap expert” was especially laughable given he’s responsible for the awful cap situation they are in. (side note: there is so much misinformation and general BS from the media surrounding this team. Every reporter wants to “break” a story and they often do at the expense of facts or reliable sources. It’s irresponsible journalism and not talked about enough). Tannenbaum’s “go for broke” strategy of the last 2 years loaded the Jets with overpaid, aging players at the expense of draft picks, youth, and a foundation. An astounding stat: Between 2009 and 2011, the Jets had only 13 draft choices compared to the Patriots, who had 34 selections (thanks to ESPN.com and Pro Football Focus for that). While the Pats were re-loading with the likes of Gronkowski, Ridley, Spikes, etc., the Jets were trading away draft picks for Sanchez, Cromartie, Tebow, etc. And that put even more pressure on the front office to get the draft right. It’s hard enough to draft the right players with a full stockpile of picks – try doing so when you have only 3 or 4 in a given year. And unfortunately for Tannenbabum, he was wrong in recent years (Sanchez, Gholston, Wilson, Ducasse) more often than he was right (Wilkerson, Coples, Kerley). Compounding matters, the Jets invested big money in aging, experienced players (Scott, Pace, LT, Burress) in a league that favors youth, speed and depth. The recipe worked for 2 years, but at a steep price: a decline that was fast & hard.
So what of the decision to keep Rex? Media & fan reaction seems to be evenly split. Some applaud the move, citing Rex’s ability to keep the team together and miraculously in the hunt for a playoff spot right through week 15. They talk about how much players love to play for him and his defensive genius. Many however think he should be just as culpable as Tannenbaum for the team’s personnel decisions (especially his almost purposeful ignorance of the offense) and decline. And they think that any coveted GM will not want to come to a team where they don’t have full decision-making authority, including the ability to choose their own coach.
I completely see both arguments, but find myself landing in the pro-Rex camp. Rex has proven that he can take a team with the right talent to the AFC championship game. There have been countless coaches loaded with more talent who have not been able to do the same (2011/12 Eagles, any recent Chargers/Cowboys/Falcons teams, etc.). And who is to say that a new coach would be successful? The “success rate” (let’s use a very liberal definition – success = winning record) of new coaches in their first 2 or 3 years has to be less than 75%. For every Jim Harbaugh, there is a Jim Schwartz. For every Mike Tomlin, there is a Mike Mularkey, etc., etc. Point being – a new coach doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Keep a proven winner in Rex, but surround him with the right talent on offense and an offensive coaching staff who knows how to build and run a modern system (sorry Rex, Ground and Pound is no longer a winning formula) and can develop a young QB, which will surely be in the Jets future.
Woody has enlisted the help of a professional search firm to help find the next GM – the same firm and recruiter that the Seahawks used to find their recent GM. At first I thought it was a strange move, but now I like it – hire experts in the field and remove any personal bias from your initial search. If the results are similar (Russell Wilson in the 3rd round was the best if not 2nd best – Alfred Morris in the 6th – pick of the recent draft), we will be in a good place. A lot of names have been thrown out and all sound promising. My one hope/request is that they have true control and final say over all personnel decisions. We need someone with a long-term vision, respect and authority. We haven’t had that since Bill Parcells was running things, and we really never had that before he was here. Sad, but true.
In the meantime, I’ll be pulling for the Redskins (my in-laws are lifelong diehards) in the NFC and the Texans in the AFC. But sadly, I think we will see Peyton Manning’s Broncos (he’s worth every penny. Don’t bet against him at home in Mile High in the playoffs) vs. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. Boring. I’m not buying the Falcons and their suspect D and I don’t love a rookie QB’s chances in San Fran (or Indy or Seattle or Washington for that matter – crazy how many rookie QBs made the playoffs) to take them to the Super Bowl. But that said, the game of the year will be Brady vs Manning in MIle High in the AFC championship game. And I’ll be vicariously living through all of those fans who have real QBs and bright futures ahead of them.
So here’s hoping that a New Year brings some sanity and normalcy to this star-crossed organization. On the bright side, there’s really nowhere to go but up from here.