CORTLAND, N.Y. - You'd think that Rex Ryan would have the final say over who plays where on game day. But when it comes to the most important decision facing the embattled coach, he might not have the final say.
Even though Ryan said upon arriving at training camp on Thursday that it will be his decision whether Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith is his starting quarterback, newly hired general manager John Idzik delivered a potentially problematic "not so fast, Rex" answer to the question of who's in control here.
Is it Ryan, who faces a win-now mandate and whose fate ultimately rests on how the players perform? Is it Idzik, who has a longer-range view of the team's future? And what about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who will be calling the plays and might have the best sense of which quarterback should play?
After Idzik repeatedly was pressed on the matter Saturday, the waters appeared sufficiently muddy. It made you wonder if internal problems are brewing over the most important decision facing the organization heading into the season.
"It's a collective effort," Idzik said. "This isn't a one-time event that comes up and we have to make a quick decision. So there's a lot of talk, discussion, debate that goes over these type of decisions."
But at the end of the process, when all the information is gathered and a decision has to be made, it has to fall to the head coach. Anything less, and his authority can be potentially usurped from elsewhere in the organization -- and the players' perception of him can be adversely affected.
The way you successfully operate an NFL franchise that has the traditional setup of the owner, coach and general manager is the way former Giants GM George Young used to put it: "Owners own, managers manage and coaches coach."
Stay in your lane, do the jobs you're assigned to do and don't get in each other's way.
There are instances in which there can be some crossover issues. An owner, for instance, might need to intercede when his general manager is not performing to the standards expected of him, which was the case when Woody Johnson fired Mike Tannenbaum after last season. And sometimes it's the general manager who must step in to fire a head coach.
But as far as the day-to-day responsibilities are concerned, the more you can construct a framework in which each person has authority over his own department, the better off a team will be.
Idzik, for instance, took input from Ryan and the assistant coaches during the draft, but it was the GM's call when it came time to pick the players. But by not publicly saying that Ryan has the final call over who plays for him, Idzik is leaving open the possibility that he'll allow himself to meddle in an area in which Ryan should have the final determination.
Of course, it doesn't help that Ryan has struggled to make things right on his offensive staff at various points in his tenure here. He fired Brian Schottenheimer after the 2011 season, then made the ill-fated decision to hire Tony Sparano as his offensive coordinator for 2012. After one of the most abysmal offensive performances you'll ever see, Ryan fired Sparano and hired Mornhinweg, who at least has a track record of success as a coordinator, even if there have been some questionable play-calls over the years.
So maybe Idzik is giving himself more leeway because he knows Ryan's vision of how an offense should function can be questioned. But if that's the case, the potential for second-guessing the coach ultimately could doom their relationship.
And that wouldn't be a surprise. There are several examples in recent history in which GMs who inherit coaches ultimately part ways. It happened in Green Bay with Ted Thompson and Mike Sherman in 2006. Same deal in Chicago last season with Phil Emery and Lovie Smith. And in Cleveland in 2011 with Mike Holmgren and Eric Mangini.
Ryan and Idzik hope they can buck that trend. But Idzik's refusal to say whether his coach has the final say over his most important roster decision makes you wonder if they'll become the latest GM-coach duo to part ways.