As I sat and watched the Tim Tebow press conference earlier this spring, a few thoughts came to mind. First, if I am ever on a cruise ship that is going down, I want Tim Tebow on that ship with me. The kid is a very classy, perpetually upbeat individual who I would have to think would make the whole experience far less traumatic. Then I thought, who am I kidding? No cruise ship with Tim Tebow on it is ever going to sink. The next thing that was abundantly clear to me was that there was no way that the decision to bring Tebow to New York was an idea that Rex Ryan had been remotely considering, and that just how awkward the whole situation is.
The Jets signed Drew Stanton on March 16th to be their No. 2 quarterback, or at least to battle Greg McElroy for the position. Less than a week later, on March 23rd, they make a trade for Tebow. Oh, and all of this comes less than three weeks after the Jets gave Mark Sanchez a three-year contract extension.
What exactly is the plan for the Jets at the quarterback position? More importantly, does Ryan have any say in these decisions? I find it very hard to swallow that any NFL head coach wants to be playing musical chairs (Stanton has since been moved on to Indianapolis) with their quarterbacks the way New York is right now. Talk of giving Tebow 20 or so snaps a game is a blatant slap in the face to your current starter, who already has a tenuous relationship with the No. 1 receiver on the team. Now, I am no Oliver Stone, but I can smell a conspiracy developing when there is a good one brewing.
When a franchise brings onboard a backup quarterback who needs a college style offense to be built around his skill set, then promises 20 or so plays a game to said quarterback, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the head coach to make it work. Do the Jets now spend valuable preparation time (which has already been whittled down by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement) on getting their ducks in a row for the ‘Tebow Package,’ and give Sanchez less repetitions in practice? Sanchez has not exactly mastered the position yet, in case anyone has forgotten.
There is an old saying that when you have two quarterbacks, you have zero quarterbacks, an idea that seems to be lost on the Jets franchise. It is no wonder that, when asked in a word associated type fashion, to describe the New York locker room, Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis recently responded with “disarray.” This comes on the heels of future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson, calling the turmoil between Mark Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes last season as being “as bad as I have been around.”
Tomlinson also intimated that Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum nurtured a locker room of brash, in-your-face, say-whatever-you-want and just get it done on the field atmosphere, that went south when the team started to lose. Players began to call each other out, point fingers, and the rest as they say, is history. New York lost its final three games, finished 8-8 and did not make the playoffs. It all reminds me of a great Bum Phillips quote – “Football is a game of failure. You fail all the time, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming someone else.”
So, now that I have managed to work a Bum Phillips quote into this article, we can address another reason I believe that Ryan is living on borrowed time as coach of the Jets. You see, I am a huge fan of the Houston Oilers, and not the Jack Pardee, Warren Moon or Jerry Glanville era Oilers. I am a ‘Luv Ya Blue,’ Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini, Robert Brazile and Ken Burrough era Oiler fan. I still cannot watch a replay of Mike Renfro catching that touchdown pass (yes, it was a touchdown) in the 1978 season AFC Championship game, that was called incomplete without breaking into a cold sweat.
In 1978 and 1979, the Houston Oilers were the second-best team in football, and unfortunately never made it to a Super Bowl. Stay with me folks, this is not a meaningless trip down memory lane, it does all tie together, trust me. After losing in the AFC title game for the second consecutive year, Ryan boldly predicted that the Jets would win the Super Bowl in the 2011 season. “What was I supposed to say?” Ryan said after the debacle that was the 2011 regular season. “We had gone to back-to-back championship games. I just wanted to make sure our team knew that, ‘Hey, look guys, we were so close, we’re going to win this thing this year’.”
At a post season celebration in the Houston Astrodome, after the second consecutive season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Phillips was famously quoted, “One year ago, we knocked on the door. This year, we beat on the door. Next year, we’re going to kick the son-of-a-bitch in.”
Prior to the 1980 season, Dan Pastorini asked to be, and was traded to the Oakland Raiders for Ken Stabler, the Oilers would finish 11-5, win the AFC Central Division, and lose 27-7 to the Raiders in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. That would be the last game Phillips would coach for the Houston Oilers. He would finish his coaching career in New Orleans, and it would be seven years before Houston would return to the postseason. The Oilers had peaked in 1979, could not get by the dreaded Steelers and saw their window of opportunity close tight, and slid into obscurity. The New York Jets are in exactly the same situation, heading into the fourth season under Ryan. They have been to the edge of ultimate success, and now the backslide has begun.
It is inevitable that a coaches voice begins to fall on deaf ears in the locker room, when his/or her, style of motivation, or inspiration fails to reach the players and maximum effort is no longer brought forth from the team. That time seems to have arrived for Ryan and the New York Jets. What was once a trash talking team, possessing huge swagger and a ‘we are going to punch you in the face, and you can’t do anything about it!’ attitude, has regressed to a team of whining, finger pointing, complainers.
Ryan was the unabashed leader of that attitude. The swagger started at the top and fed down through the roster. He was everything you would want your leader to be – he was loud, insulting to both player and coach of opposing teams alike, and able to whip his players into a mad dog frenzy with his actions and words. Then the losing began, and like a pack of wild dogs, the Jets began to turn on one another.
Mark Sanchez was no longer the second coming of Joe Namath, the playoff wonder boy that would lead New York to the promised land. He has now been described by anonymous team mates as “lazy and content because he knows he’s not going to be benched.” Also – “They treat him like a baby instead of a man. He goes in a hole when someone tells him the truth.” Now, I am only a dime store psychologist, but I do not see these as the type of things a teammate says when they are ready to go through a wall for their quarterback.
Ryan has a splintered locker room in New York, and is in full damage control mode, and more importantly, it is all of his own creation. Recently signed Carolina Panther running back Mike Tolbert may have summed up the perception of the Jets to other players in the league when speaking about his search for a new team in free agency when he said, “they do sometimes have that whole media circus thing going on and I’m not the type of person that gets into the whole limelight thing and throwing players under the bus and stuff like that.”
OK, so maybe that is just an outsiders view of the organization, a player who doesn’t get the ‘Jets’ way ’or felt he was not really an option the team was considering signing anyway. Well, here is an interesting quote from an unidentified member within the Jets franchise, when speaking on the team’s chances of signing, then free agent, Peyton Manning –“I don’t think that (Manning will) come here. We have to change the perception of our organization. We’re not the organization that players said they wanted to play for a year or two ago. We’re starting to come across a little flaky. We talk the talk. We don’t back it up. We’re out of control. There’s no discipline. It’s a mess right now.”
Let us let that quote sink in for a moment, keeping in mind that it is from an actual member of the New York Jets organization. Ouch.
I recently heard an interview with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson on a local sports radio show, and the question asked of him was, “If you could change any loss in your career, which one would you go back and change?” The answer Tyson gave was, “nothing to change. If I changed anything and if my ego had gotten any bigger or inflamed, I would probably be dead or something. I learned (humility), I became humble. If you are not humble in this world, this world will thrust humbleness upon you.”
There is a lesson in that statement for the New York Jets, and also for Ryan. The NFL has punched back, the swagger has now become a stagger, a bit of humility and stability is needed from the top on down. The locker room needs to be united, to be brought together by a singleness of purpose. So what did the Jets do? They went out and obtained perhaps the single most polarizing player in the NFL. When your oven is on fire, you do not set a can of gasoline on top of it. It appears from this outsider’s view, that the Jets management is methodically placing Ryan in a position to fail.
Buddy Ryan, father of Rex and Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, coached the Philadelphia Eagles from 1986-90, his record as head coach of the Eagles was 43-35-1, with three consecutive trips to the post season (1988-90), but not a single playoff victory. After the 1990 season, the brash, abrasive, aggressive and adversarial style of coaching that Ryan was famous for had worn thin with both players and management and he was fired. I am afraid that Rex Ryan is the acorn that did not fall from the family tree. When someone is winning, people tend to overlook, or at least tolerate to a greater extent, the things they may normally find abrasive or aggravating. When that same person is no longer winning at that same level, those will be the same attributes that lead to that person’s removal.
As long as we are being honest here, Rob Ryan did not do the Cowboys any favors last season by calling out the Eagles and pronouncing ” … we’re going to beat their ass when we play them.” For the record, the Eagles swept the Cowboys last season, and outscored them 54-14. Needless to say, Rob Ryan was not exactly the most sought after man to interview for any of the seven open head coaching positions heading into the 2012 season. Perhaps, ‘speak softly, and carry a big stick’ should become the new Ryan family mantra.
So, when closely examining the Ryan situation in New York, I am reminded of another quote from former Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips – “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s going to be fired.”
Come the close of the 2012 season (if not sooner), Ryan is going to be relieved of his duties as head coach of the New York Jets. The toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube once it is out, and the mayhem running rampant in the Jet’ locker room cannot be fixed by the man who created it. Will Ryan get another chance to coach in the NFL? Absolutely. Will the lessons he will take from what happened to his Jets team make him a better coach down the road? That remains to be seen. There is an old adage along the lines of ‘adapt or die,’ and Ryan will need to examine just how much bravado he wants to take forward with him in his coaching career. Where ever that ends up being, it will not be as coach of the New York Jets in 2013.