Rex Ryan's decision: It's about winning, not loyalty

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, right, smiles as he

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, right, smiles as he talks with head coach Rex Ryan on the sidelines after a touchdown by running back Bilal Powell during the fourth quarter of a game against the Rams. (Nov. 18, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J.

It took Rex Ryan more than a year, but this time he got it right regarding what Mark Sanchez means to his Jets coaching future.

First let us recall what Ryan said about Sanchez in November 2011: "He's going to be our quarterback for as long as I'm here, which I hope is a long, long time.''

Even if his heart was in the right place, his logic was off the moment he said it -- and remember, this was before the start of the team's ongoing 5-10 slump.

Quarterbacks come and go, just as coaches do, and although there obviously are successful long-term relationships -- for example, the one in the locker room down the hall at MetLife Stadium -- these always are marriages of convenience.

Fast-forward to Thursday, when Ryan spoke to a vastly diminished group of journalists one day after announcing he will stick with Sanchez for now.

When someone asked Ryan if his dogged loyalty to Sanchez means he is prepared to go down with that ship, the coach said this:

"I think I am loyal to all of our players. I don't think there's any doubt about that. But I also have a responsibility for this football team, and that's to put the best guys out there that give us a chance to win.

"I believe I made the decision here to go with Mark because it's something I believe in.''

See what Ryan did there? Sanchez will start against the Jaguars because he is the most likely of the three contenders to win this one particular game -- which he is. Not because of any special bond, implied or explicit.

Quarterback decisions often are more complicated than winning a single game. Giants coach Tom Coughlin benched two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner in 2004 when his record was 5-4 to go with rookie Eli Manning, who went 1-6. But that served a larger, inevitable purpose.

The only thing inevitable about Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow is that neither will lead the Jets to a championship.

So Sanchez it is, even though he has done his part to illustrate an adage Ryan offered : "There are two positions where you can lose a game fastest in this league: quarterback and cornerback.''

Should he actually lose to the hapless Jaguars in Tebow's hometown, Sanchez can and should return to the bench, and Ryan can and should try someone else in Week 15 -- and probably yet another someone next summer.

That is not disloyalty any more than loyalty is what is keeping Sanchez in the lineup. That is coaching -- a job that requires cold pragmatism above all else.

Ryan's offensive and defensive coordinators sounded as if they considered the quarterback decision not much of a decision at all.

"You just boil it down to, let's look at Jacksonville, what scenario gives us the best chance of winning the game?'' defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "That's why I don't think it was that difficult of a decision.''

Said offensive coordinator Tony Sparano: "At the end of it all, we feel obviously that Mark gives us the best chance to win.''

Ryan will not allow himself to be taken down along with Sanchez unless he figures Sanchez is his least likely path to being taken down.

"This is a big decision in determining wins and losses, the play of your quarterback,'' Ryan said. "But no, I don't feel like my future is tied in with how we do things.''

Ryan said his former head coach with the Ravens, Brian Billick, recently told him there have been 111 NFL coaches in the past decade. "So it's probably not the most secure job,'' he said.

Then he added this: "The one [way] that I can affect job security is by winning.''

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