FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The way Rex Ryan envisioned things when he hired Tony Sparano as his offensive coordinator, the Jets would get back to their "Ground & Pound" mentality of a run-centric attack that had vanished by the end of Brian Schottenheimer's tenure. Add in a few wrinkles with Tim Tebow at the controls of the Wildcat offense, and Ryan sensed that Sparano could reinvigorate the offense.
So much for that idea.
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Not only has Sparano failed to achieve the results for which Ryan hoped, but the offense is in much worse shape than it was at the end of Schottenheimer's run. The numbers tell you all you need to know:
The Jets are 30th in total offense, averaging 302.1 yards per game, more than 130 yards behind league-leading New England.
They're 28th in scoring, averaging 18.2 points per game, roughly half of the Patriots' 36.1 points per game.
Their minus-11 turnover ratio is 27th in the league.
And, the most important negative development of all under Sparano: Mark Sanchez regressed so much during the course of the season that he has been benched and may have taken his last snap in a Jets' uniform. Sanchez has fewer touchdown passes (13) than interceptions (17) for the first time since his rookie season.
Ryan is left with no other choice. He needs to find himself another offensive coordinator.
And judging from the coach's noncommittal stance about Sparano Thursday, it appears that might very well be the case. For Ryan's sake, that had better be his next move.
Though praising Sparano for his work ethic and some modest improvement in the Jets' running game and pass protection, Ryan was not willing to say whether Sparano would be back next season. Perhaps he learned a lesson from last year, when he repeatedly expressed confidence in Schottenheimer and then fired him shortly after the season ended. Either way, Ryan left himself plenty of room to make a move -- a move that simply has to be made.
And if Ryan doesn't get this one right, then he'll be the one looking for a job.
"I think with any situation, whether it's staff or whatever, you know, the policy is not to discuss those things until the appropriate time," Ryan said.
Had he known for sure that he wanted Sparano back, Ryan almost surely would have said so. And even though he praised Sparano's attention to detail, his remarks were hardly effusive. In fact, Ryan seemed to have some trouble finding positives about Sparano's offense -- probably because there aren't many.
"I see the work ethic he has, he never flinches," Ryan said, adding that Sparano never has complained about the Jets' myriad injuries at wide receiver. "That's been a troublesome area and the fact that we had so many injuries . . . it's trying and challenging for sure."
And the failed Wildcat offense?
"For whatever reason," Ryan said, "it hasn't had quite the success that I actually thought it would."
Not quite the success? How about no success? Tebow was little more than a novelty in the offense and had minimal impact. He has completed six passes for 39 yards and ran 32 times for 101 yards. He has not scored a touchdown.
Sparano said he's not even thinking about his future and didn't say how he should be judged.
"It's not for me to assess," Sparano said. "Somebody else will do that."
Sparano said he can't afford to spend any time wondering about whether he comes back in 2013.
"I'm spending time worrying about how to beat the San Diego Chargers right now," he said of Sunday's opponent.
Sparano is one of several issues facing the 6-8 Jets as they head into the offseason, regardless of what happens in their final two games. Ryan is expected back, but general manager Mike Tannenbaum may not be back in his current position. But no matter who is calling the shots in personnel, Ryan has final say regarding his coaching staff. If by some chance he actually brings back Sparano next year, then Ryan is almost certainly doomed to failure and his own eventual firing.
But if Ryan does make a change, then he has to get this one right, or else he'll be shown the door by team owner Woody Johnson.
Ryan has been weak at figuring out how to address concerns on offense, and you have to question his vision for what needs to be done. Ryan remains one of the league's premier defensive minds, but his inability to match that excellence on offense may prove to be his Achilles' heel.
One more chance -- one last chance -- to get it right.