Rex Ryan deserves to return for another season
Three years and 11 games into his first job as an NFL head coach, it was the first time Rex Ryan had heard the question that almost every coach faces at some point. In the win-now mentality of the NFL, that question usually comes sooner rather than later.
Ryan was asked if he thinks his job is on the line.
"Do you think you'll be back next season?" a reporter asked just minutes after a hideous 49-19 loss to the Patriots on Thursday night, one of the worst losses in Ryan's tenure.
"I do," he shot back. "And I think our team will play a heck of a lot better, and I don't believe anybody will ask that question by the time the year's over."
It was just the latest in a series of confident statements by the loquacious coach, essentially a guarantee that his 4-7 Jets will pull themselves out of a tailspin in which they have lost six of their last eight games.
He now has five games to back up his big talk. Five games left to reinvigorate a fan base that has become far too accustomed to these disastrous streaks, the kind that have occurred far too often in the more than four decades of frustration since their one and only Super Bowl victory.
Ryan was by the side of his father, Buddy, during that magical 1968 season, experiencing firsthand the kind of magic a championship can create. But Rex now presides over a team that is every bit as depressing as any we've seen in the long and sorry post-Joe Namath era.
The MetLife Meltdown against the Patriots included five turnovers that either resulted in touchdowns or were converted into TDs, three touchdowns in 52 seconds, and that embarrassing YouTube moment when Mark Sanchez ran into Brandon Moore's backside, lost a fumble and saw it returned for a touchdown.
Same Old Jets, version 2012.
This team is a shell of what it was when Ryan boldly snapped the franchise out of its lethargy with two stirring trips to the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons. Ryan appeared headed for a third straight playoff run last year, getting his team to 8-5. But the three-game losing streak that ended the season and ended their playoff hopes has now turned into a full-fledged collapse. Ryan is 4-10 in his last 14 games.
There now is a growing drumbeat suggesting that Ryan ought to be fired, that the Jets should simply tear everything apart and start from scratch with a new regime. But it is too soon to make any final judgment of Ryan's tenure, and he absolutely deserves the next five games to see if he can get his team back to playing respectably. In fact, barring a complete collapse in which the team fails to win another game, Ryan's overall body of work is deserving of a return in 2013 to fix the mess.
It's pretty obvious that Ryan doesn't have the team he started the season with, thanks to the gradual erosion of a roster that featured plenty of quality veterans in Thomas Jones, Shaun Ellis, Jerricho Cotchery, Tony Richardson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kris Jenkins and so many others. The Tim Tebow trade has been an unmitigated disaster; now it's Ryan's handling of Tebow's rib injury that has created even more controversy. And Sanchez simply hasn't made the kind of strides necessary to be considered the team's undeniable quarterback of the future.
The Jets need to do what they should have done this past season: bring in a veteran to either supplant Sanchez or at least compete with him. The Drew Stanton signing was a logical move at the time, but the Tebow trade prompted Stanton to get out of town, leaving the Jets with an unmanageable situation at quarterback.
They need to fix it. And that means keeping an eye open everywhere -- including San Francisco, as the 49ers might need to part ways with Alex Smith if they decide to go with Colin Kaepernick.
The Jets also need to replenish the talent they've lost over the years with quality young players, something they haven't been able to do on a regular basis. General manager Mike Tannenbaum has been aggressive with draft-day trades, but what this team needs now is to retain or even stockpile picks the way the Giants and Patriots have done.
Tannenbaum's background is best suited for salary-cap issues, and he still can play a valuable role in the franchise moving forward. But the lead football executive for any NFL team really ought to be steeped in personnel, a talent that provides a better foundation to make the tough decisions that all teams face.
Case in point: When the Jets were looking at quarterbacks in 2009, they narrowed down their choices to Sanchez and Josh Freeman of Kansas State. Many of the Jets' scouts preferred Freeman, but Ryan clearly preferred Sanchez.
The Jets moved up to take Sanchez, who helped them to back-to-back trips to the AFC title game but also was the beneficiary of a superior defense and an excellent running game.
Freeman's upside appears higher than Sanchez, however; he has 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in helping the surprising Bucs to a 6-4 record.
Ryan stands by his quarterback, but he'd be foolish not to bolster the position moving forward. He also needs to assess his new offensive coordinator; if Tony Sparano can't get this offense going -- and if he hasn't by now, he likely won't -- then Ryan will need to make another hire for next season.
Lots of complicated decisions ahead, no doubt. But unless the bottom falls out the rest of the way, Ryan deserves the chance to fix his team.