Rex Ryan's hollow endorsements of Brian Schottenheimer notwithstanding, it was time for a change at offensive coordinator, and the Jets came out big winners yesterday with the naming of former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano as their new play-caller.
The no-nonsense style of Sparano, a direct descendant of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, will go a long way toward transforming a moribund offense that too often lost its sense of identity under Schottenheimer to more of the "Ground & Pound" that is clearly Ryan's preference.
Sparano will add his share of wrinkles with elements of the "Wildcat" he used in Miami, but his core approach will be to play sound, fundamental football. That will give the offense a more distinct personality and provide struggling Mark Sanchez with a more stable approach.
Schottenheimer too often strayed from the path Ryan hoped to follow, forcing Sanchez into situations he wasn't equipped to handle -- most notably by having him drop back to pass an unconscionable 68 times in a 29-14 loss to the Giants Dec. 24. Sanchez is still a young quarterback who hasn't proven he can put an offense on his shoulders, and Schottenheimer's frequent attempts to veer from the run-first approach met with unfortunate results way too much.
Make no mistake: The struggles weren't exclusively Schottenheimer's fault. He was a victim of shoddy pass protection, the inconsistency of wideouts Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes, and the infighting among players that culminated with Holmes' benching in the final two minutes of a season-ending loss to the Dolphins.
But it was painfully obvious the Jets needed a meaningful change of direction, and Ryan needed to make a move. He hoped Schottenheimer would get a head-coaching job and not have to pull the plug himself. But once the Jaguars, the only team to interview Schottenheimer for a head-coaching position, tabbed Mike Mularkey as their coach, Schottenheimer was left with little choice. He resigned late Tuesday night, and by early Wednesday afternoon, the Jets had announced Sparano's hiring.
Translation: The Sparano hiring had been in the works, and Schottenheimer's ouster was a foregone conclusion, despite Ryan's frequent assurances to the contrary.
"When we sat down with Tony, I knew that he was the right person at the right time for our offense," Ryan said in a statement released by the team. "I've admired his work as a competitor in the division for the past three seasons. His teams were always physical, tough and hard-nosed."
Sparano's teams may have been tough and physical, but they weren't always successful. After winning the AFC East with an 11-5 record in 2008 -- only a year after the team went 1-15 -- Sparano went 18-27. The Dolphins started 0-7 in 2011 and he was fired with a 4-9 record.
Sparano coached under Parcells in Dallas from 2003-06, going from tight ends coach to assistant head coach. He became offensive coordinator in 2006, then was tabbed by Parcells as Dolphins coach in 2008.
"Sparano was schooled under Parcells, so he's going to get guys in tune situationally," former Jets tackle Damien Woody said. "He'll do a good job of calling a smart game."
Woody, who played under Schottenheimer for three years before retiring after the 2010 season, said it was time for a change. "I like Schotty as a coach," he said. "Unfortunately, he's been here six years, and sometimes your message gets stale. Sometimes it's better to get a fresh approach."
That starts with Sparano's old-school mentality. He's a stickler for detail who doesn't stand for excuses and won't hesitate to tell disgruntled players -- see: Holmes -- to stuff it if they don't like what's being called. And perhaps he'll be assisted by Todd Haley, another Parcells acolyte whom the Jets are trying to lure to develop the passing game.
But more than anything, Sparano will get the Jets back to what can help them win more games: a run-oriented approach that will establish ball control, give Sanchez the real threat of a play-action passing game, and create a more reliable attack than the one Schottenheimer left behind.