Jets GM John Idzik is meticulous and highly respected
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Near the end of John Idzik's pre-draft news conference on Wednesday, a media session peppered mostly with questions about whether star cornerback Darrelle Revis would be traded, the Jets' recently hired general manager was asked about any concerns he might have about being viewed negatively if he traded the team's best player.
Idzik's eyes narrowed, and he stared directly at his questioner.
"I don't look at it like that. I never look at it as how I am being viewed,'' he said. "That does not enter my mind, to be honest. It is really all about the Jets and any decision we make, especially those of very high magnitude, we are going to put a lot of thought into. We are going to do what is best for the New York Jets.''
The exchange was reminiscent of another one Idzik had, this one far more private, yet just as revealing about how the man entrusted with the Jets' future operates. It was nearly 18 years ago when former Tampa Bay Buccaneers public relations man Chip Namias was talking to Idzik about some of the decisions facing the organization, which still was struggling to emerge from a decades-long run of failure.
"We used to chat about personnel stuff going on with the Buccaneers, and one time, he was telling me something that they were contemplating, or that he was recommending,'' said Namias, who couldn't recall the specific player being mentioned. "I was kidding around with John and said, 'Jeez, I don't know if that will be very popular. You could lose your job.' I was clearly kidding around, but he got very serious and basically said to me, 'If I ever do something that's in the best interests of this football team and it costs me my job, that's fine, because it's not about me. It's never about me. It's about what's best for this football team and what will make them a winner. If I had to do something for this team that I knew would help us but that I would lose my job, I'd do it in a heartbeat.'''
It's something that Namias, who is now president of Los Angeles-based Athlete & Event Sports Public Relations, never has forgotten. It speaks to the very core of who Idzik is and how he goes about his job. Which in this case is the Herculean task of reconfiguring a Jets' franchise coming off two straight non-winning seasons.
Hard work brings success
Those who have been around the 52-year-old Idzik at various stages of his career believe he ultimately will succeed, in large part because of the methodical approach he takes and the courage of his convictions.
Whether it is deciding what happens next with a star player like Darrelle Revis or considering which undrafted free agents to sign, Idzik's meticulous attention to detail, a willingness to gather information from a variety of sources within the organization and a lifetime spent around football bode well for his latest and most daunting task.
The next steps come in this week's draft, which could be preceded by a trade of Revis. Whatever the case, those who know Idzik best believe he's up to the challenge.
"John will be very methodical in how he acts, and you will not see him flying by the seat of his pants. He will think things out very carefully,'' said former Cardinals general manager Rod Graves, who has known Idzik since the two were ball boys for the Eagles when their fathers worked for the organization nearly four decades ago.
Graves hired Idzik in 2004 as the team's senior director of football operations, and the two spent three seasons together before Idzik was hired by the Seahawks in 2007. The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season.
"John is extremely thorough, and he has a big benefit in having worked on the scouting end of it, in the administrative end of it and on the salary-cap end of it,'' Graves said. "He's very creative in finding solutions to salary-cap problems and all the complexities of the cap and contracts.''
Building a team
Idzik has put those skills to good use with the Jets, who were forced to shed salaries of veteran players like Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Sione Po'hua. The Jets have since re-signed Pace to a one-year deal, although it has been a financially challenging situation to deal with cap problems.
Revis' contract situation ultimately may play a part in whether he is traded this week or perhaps later in the year.
"John and I spent a lot of late nights together talking football, talking philosophy, talking about what matters most,'' Graves said. "He's been around football all his life, and he understands the importance of what it takes to build a team.''
Case in point: In 2004, just two years into the career of former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, it was Idzik who urged Graves to renegotiate Boldin's contract rather than risk letting him get to free agency. Graves didn't necessarily want to make that move.
"I remember vividly a conversation we had about Anquan, because he was such a playmaker,'' Graves said. "We were trying to make a decision at that stage as to whether or not we were going to bite off the apple for a new contract. Once we signed that deal, it took a year or two, but we felt like we had a great deal in our pockets. I give John credit for having the vision and foresight to understand what the [contract] numbers meant for us then and down the road.''
Graves, the son of former Eagles personnel man Jackie Graves, first met Idzik when the two hung around Eagles' camp in the early 1970s. Idzik's father, John, a lifelong coach who went on to become the Jets' offensive coordinator from 1976-79, brought his son to training camp, where he and Graves got to know each other during the summers they spent there. Graves had lost touch with Idzik over the years, but reconnected when he went on a scouting assignment at Duke, where Idzik was a graduate assistant football coach for the Blue Devils in 1991-92.
"As ball boys, we were just kids, having fun and being around players like Harold Carmichael and other guys that were heroes to us,'' Graves said. "Once we reconnected, I followed John, and when we had a chance to hire him in Arizona, it was at a very opportune time. He did a lot for our organization.''
Gaining valuable experience
The message is the same from just about everyone who has worked with Idzik: hard working, smart, deliberate, thorough and passionate about the sport he'd grown up a part of with his dad's assorted jobs. John Idzik Sr., who is 84 and suffers from dementia, was a fullback at the University of Maryland in the 1940s and went on to a career in coaching. He worked with 10 organizations in a 27-year period, and eventually coached the Jets' quarterbacks and called plays for head coach Walt Michaels. The two parted ways after Idzik disagreed with Michaels about whether Richard Todd should have been the Jets' starter. Idzik preferred Todd, while Michaels settled on Matt Robinson in what had been a heated quarterback controversy.
The younger Idzik attended Jets' training camps at Hofstra, often driving to and from camp with former defensive tackle Joe Klecko, who lived near the Idziks' home in suburban Philadelphia. Idzik was a receiver at Dartmouth when he got to know Klecko.
"His dad and I would ride together all the time,'' Klecko recalled in an interview. "His family was a football-oriented family. His dad played and coached, so Johnny was always built around football. I think he learned from his father the coaching side of it was harder than the management side, so I guess he chose a more direct route.
"I think his dad was a class guy," Klecko said. "It was very subdued as far as John was concerned. There was never an argument with Walt and him. John wasn't going to win that. He handled it like a gentleman and a trouper. You never heard a lot of rhetoric.''
Klecko believes the coach's son will do well in his new role, despite the challenges ahead. But only if Jets owner Woody Johnson gives him the latitude -- and the time -- to fix what's wrong.
"We all understand how teams work and there's one guy who calls the shots and he writes the checks and if that guy [Johnson] wants him to rearrange things and do well for making his team a winner, I think giving [Idzik the reins is a positive thing for Mr. Johnson.''
Any particular advice for Idzik?
"He's got to gain some weight,'' Klecko cracked. "He's too skinny. He has to be able to look like a tough guy. As far as his ability, though, he's well prepared. I have nothing but high regard for him doing the job.''
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens first met Idzik when the two played at the school; Teevens was a senior quarterback, while Izdik was a freshman receiver. Teevens noticed even then that Idzik was willing to put in the work to get better . . . even if his upside was limited.
"The good Lord may not have blessed John with speed, but he had a quick, reactive mind and good hands, and he worked to be very meticulous and very specific with what he did,'' said Teevens, who keeps in contact with Idzik. "I think that's the way he approaches his job now. Football is hugely important to him, studying, evaluating.''
Enjoying his work
After graduating from Dartmouth, Idzik coached receivers at the University of Buffalo and then decided to join the corporate world. He worked at IBM for six years, but longed to make a living at his passion.
In 1990, he was an assistant coach with the Aberdeen Oilers of the British American Football League, and joined Duke as a graduate assistant. Two years later, he was hired by the Bucs.
"John's personality is very even-keeled, so it's tough to rattle him or ruffle him,'' Teevens said. "He's very prepared, and, given the environment, I think his personality fits the needs of the job. He'll do his research, do his homework, establish the relationship and get the job done. He's a grinder. I think it's a wonderful selection.''
"He's as hard working as you're going to get,'' McKay said of Idzik, who eventually became the Bucs' assistant general manager. "He's very dedicated, and he does not like to lose, so he has a lot of those good traits. A very smart guy. I turned the negotiating and salary-cap stuff over to John pretty quickly because he was so good at it. He was very bright and did a great job.
"His work ethic was off the charts,'' McKay said. "When we were in free agency, he pulled all-nighters many times. That's who he is. Jerry Angelo and I might have at some point said to John, 'That's enough,' but he wouldn't have it.''
McKay remembers when former Bucs coach Tony Dungy issued a somewhat informal edict that everyone in the building had to go home to their families, lest they risk burnout.
"Tony didn't want the coaches to stay all night, and that became a sore subject between John and I,'' McKay said. "We'd get to Thursday, and we didn't want anyone working past 8 p.m., but John was having none of that. He's a working fool.''
One of Idzik's biggest deals in Tampa was negotiating the contract for former Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was traded to the Bucs in 2000 for two first-round picks. Even Johnson came away impressed with Idzik's talents.
"He's a good man,'' Johnson said. "John will do a good job with the Jets. He knows football. He's very, very sound.''
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, who has been with the organization since 1999, said Idzik's background offers a unique perspective for his new job.
"John is a guy that I have a great deal of respect for,'' Keim said. "Coming up through the scouting department, John was always thought of in many league circles as a money guy, as a salary-cap guru. That, to me, is the farthest thing from the truth. John's dad was a successful NFL coach so John's been around it since he was a child. The first impression John made on me was that he isn't just a money guy, but when I say that he does have a tremendous amount of knowledge when it comes to the salary cap, business in general.
"But John is also a football guy. He knows players, he knows talent. He has a unique eye for evaluating players. And I think he's one of those guys when I look at the big picture and spectrum in the NFL, he's one of those general managers who has it all. He has the ability to do the business and the managing side, the money side, as well as understanding the talent side. A lot of general managers have strengths and weaknesses. I don't see where John has any weaknesses.''
"I met him a long time ago as a pro scout, so I know he was scouting before he got into the whole cap stuff,'' Schneider said. 'He did the cap stuff because when the cap came into effect he was the smartest man in the building to negotiate contracts. Those guys tend to get [pigeonholed].
"He's an incredibly smart, very patient football man,'' Schneider said. "He's one of those guys that, when you talk about general managing, people don't necessarily understand what that term is. It's not just evaluating talent, it's working with every department, budgets in every department, managing people, evaluating people, doctors, trainers, scouts. There's a lot that goes into it and he's seen it all. He has all the experience. He's never a guy who panics or gets frustrated. He's a real even-keeled guy and that's the thing, in my opinion, why he's going to be so successful there.''
With Tom Rock