Next Jets GM, Rex Ryan will have to jell
FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Woody Johnson wasted no time in making his first move after a desultory 6-10 season, firing embattled general manager Mike Tannenbaum and announcing that Rex Ryan will stay on as coach.
And so begins a risky and complicated attempt by the Jets' owner to thread the needle on one of the most significant front-office moves since he purchased the team in 2000.
Hiring a new GM who inherits a coach may not be an unprecedented situation, but it certainly is not an easy one. And it could prove costly in the search for a qualified candidate, because there are other less restrictive job openings in which the new GM will have a direct say in hiring the most important person in any NFL franchise: the head coach.
Johnson already is reaching out to top candidates, with Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross and 49ers personnel director Tom Gamble on his wish list. Several other worthy executives are ready to make the jump to the top front-office job, too.
But it's a tricky dynamic, one that doesn't necessarily make for long-lasting relationships between the GM and coach.
Two examples: Bears coach Lovie Smith was fired Monday after one season with recently hired GM Phil Emery, who replaced Jerry Angelo after the 2011 season. And in 2005, the Packers took away coach Mike Sherman's personnel power by hiring Ted Thompson as GM. A year later, Thompson fired Sherman and hired Mike McCarthy. The two were Super Bowl champions after the 2010 season.
But this kind of counterintuitive hiring can last, too. Three years ago in Seattle, for instance, the Seahawks hired former USC coach Pete Carroll first before adding general manager John Schneider, who honed his personnel skills in Green Bay under the watchful eye of Thompson.
The Seahawks have made the playoffs in two of Carroll's first three seasons and enter this year's postseason as hot as any team in the league. Schneider has been instrumental in stocking Carroll's team with quality personnel, including third-round rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Perhaps the Jets will consider another Thompson-trained executive, Packers director of football operations John Dorsey, for their GM vacancy.
Regardless of who is on his short list, Johnson must take advantage of this unique situation by meeting with as many personnel executives from other teams as possible before settling on a choice to replace Tannenbaum.
Johnson hasn't had this kind of opportunity since 2001, when Bill Parcells stepped down after his only season as GM. And even then, Johnson went with Parcells' suggested hire of Terry Bradway, who served as GM until February 2006. Rather than go through an extensive search at that time, Johnson elevated Tannenbaum from his position as salary-cap expert to GM.
Tannenbaum had mixed success as the top executive, going to the playoffs with newly hired Eric Mangini in their first season together but failing to get to the postseason the next two years. After firing Mangini following the 2008 season, Johnson and Tannenbaum settled on Ryan, who went on an exhilarating ride in his first two years, reaching the AFC Championship Game each time. But after two consecutive years of regression, highlighted by a stunning fall from grace by Mark Sanchez, the Jets bottomed out at 6-10 in 2012.
Johnson's team now is desperate for an infusion of offensive talent, starting with the quarterback. There might not be a quick fix there. The free-agent market is painfully thin, with Alex Smith (who might or might not be retained by the 49ers), Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Moore as possibilities. And the draft is not considered deep in quarterbacks. Better to pluck the next Wilson or Colin Kaepernick out of obscurity.
Your move, Woody. Better get this one right, or there's plenty more misery ahead.