Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Rex Ryan circled the MetLife Stadium field one last time this season, one final victory lap to thank Jets fans for their support and celebrate a home win, this one a 24-13 decision over the Browns.
Now the question is this: Was it the last time he'll get the chance to do that as Jets coach?
It's the question that will hover over the franchise until his situation is resolved one way or another. But until it is answered definitively by owner Woody Johnson and first-year general manager John Idzik, Ryan is left with one more game to show he deserves to coach into next season and beyond.
My gut feeling is that a change will be made, that Idzik -- even though he no doubt is impressed by the way Ryan has squeezed seven wins out of a team that few expected to win more than three or four -- will turn the page and hire his own guy.
History reminds us that's the way it has worked in most other cases, as other incumbent coaches working for new GMs can attest. Lovie Smith in Chicago, Eric Mangini in Cleveland and Mike Sherman in Green Bay are three of the latest examples.
And don't underestimate the Jets' own history with these things. When Johnson replaced GM Terry Bradway with Mike Tannenbaum in 2006, it was the same year he hired a new coach, as Eric Mangini replaced Herman Edwards. Mangini was a much cheaper alternative to Edwards, who had run his course here and essentially was traded to the Chiefs for a fourth-round draft pick.
If Johnson were to keep Ryan, it would mean an almost certain contract extension, which would be significantly more expensive than hiring a new coach.
From Idzik's perspective, he has to be sold that Ryan can steer the team well into the future after three straight seasons in which the Jets failed to make the playoffs. Ryan certainly is a competent defensive coach, but it might come down to whether Idzik thinks his offense can make important strides moving forward with Ryan overseeing the situation.
Ryan has struggled in that area, although current offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been a major upgrade over Tony Sparano, who lasted one season. But what if Mornhinweg were to leave and Ryan would be left to hire another offensive play-caller? That type of uncertainty might prompt Idzik to want a head coach with a background on offense, which is understandable.
Neither Idzik nor Johnson has offered a clue about what comes next. Idzik has remained tight-lipped about Ryan's future all season, and Johnson declined to address Ryan's situation after Sunday's win.
"We're not saying anything about coaches or players regarding contracts,'' Johnson said. He also declined to address a report on Fox Sports Sunday that Ryan -- in a team meeting Saturday night -- told his players that "word on the street'' is that he'll be fired after the season. Ryan also declined to address the report.
One player said before the game that Ryan addressed the uncertainty of everyone's future, not just his own. The player said Ryan did not indicate whether he thinks he is gone after the season.
"The only thing we have is this game and then after that, the Miami game,'' the player said of Ryan's comments. "Play for the guy next to you and know that these two games are huge, because it's the only thing we have. After these two games, we can't control anything. But this we can control.''
Whatever decision Johnson and Idzik do make, this much is certain: Ryan is absolutely beloved in the Jets' locker room, and if he's fired, the next man up will have some big shoes to fill to create the sense of loyalty Ryan has built among his players.
If the decision-makers asked the players whether they'd bring Ryan back, the answer would be unanimous.
"A thousand percent yes,'' linebacker Calvin Pace said. "A thousand percent.''
"Definitely want him to come back,'' cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "He's a great coach, a coach that's going to go to bat for his players day in and day out. He's the right guy for this job.''
Cromartie wishes things were different. "We wouldn't be having this discussion right now about Rex if it weren't for those games we should have won,'' he said. "Games we weren't supposed to be in that we should have won.''
But at least one player understands that this isn't about loyalty among his players, or about how much they love their coach.
"It's hard to say it's not distracting at times, because I love the guy so much,'' guard Willie Colon said. "But at the same time, it's a business. I love Rex and I'll be the first one to stand on the block and cry for him and want him back. But those things are just out of your control.''
Only Johnson and Idzik know for sure, and they're not saying.
Ryan has made his case about as well as you could ask for a coach with a rebuilding team and a rookie quarterback.
He hopes it's enough to give him another shot at more victory laps around MetLife Stadium. But he knows that decision no longer is in his control.