FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Woody Johnson understands this is not a popular decision, not after a 5-11 season that harkened back to some of the darkest days of the Jets’ franchise, and not after criticism by many fans who have urged the owner to make a change.
But there are times when you have to live by the courage of your convictions, even when the more expedient move might be to ride the wave of popular opinion and make a change simply for the sake of change.
This was one of those times for Johnson.
With the Jets having badly regressed after a promising 10-6 season in 2015, when Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles pushed all the right buttons — well, perhaps not in the regular-season finale, when the Jets blew their chance to make the playoffs — there have been plenty of calls for Johnson to take action.
Instead, he made the more difficult decision to give Maccagnan and Bowles the chance to turn things around.
It was the right thing to do.
Johnson spent considerable time, energy and money in January 2015 to search for a GM to replace John Idzik and a coach to replace Rex Ryan. He solicited the help of former general managers Ron Wolf, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Charley Casserly, who won a Super Bowl in Washington. The process yielded Maccagnan and Bowles.
“We went through a pretty exhaustive search,” Johnson said. “I have confidence in Todd Bowles. I have the same feeling about him. Very, very smart. Played the game. Understands it from a player’s standpoint and a coaching standpoint.”
After a terrific performance from the coach and GM in 2015, both deserved their share of blame for a mostly terrible run this year. There is no getting around Maccagnan’s failure to improve the quarterback situation, and many of the free-agent acquisitions who were so effective the previous year, particularly Darrelle Revis, were brutal in 2016. Bowles did a poor job managing the locker room, his defense was mediocre, and going 1-5 during a decidedly difficult stretch to start the season doomed the Jets.
But Johnson, who has made his share of impulsive decisions over the years, still believes in Maccagnan and Bowles.
“I’m still very much in his corner,” Johnson said of Bowles. “I think he’s very talented. I think he’s going to get better, as we all are, including me, at what they do. I’m just so happy to have him and Mike.”
The Jets haven’t made the playoffs in six straight years, matching their longest drought since the 1992-97 nightmare that included the Bruce Coslet, Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite years and preceded Johnson’s ownership. But Johnson will allow Bowles and Maccagnan the chance to make things right.
“I think, over time, their plan will yield (success),” he said.
It will not be an easy transformation. The Jets still are searching for a viable alternative at quarterback now that Ryan Fitzpatrick has played his way off the team. Bryce Petty showed some flashes in relief of Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith is coming off a knee injury, and second-round pick Christian Hackenberg didn’t get close to seeing the field in what turned into a red-shirt season.
Maccagnan won’t say how he’ll address the position, with the only certainty that someone other than Fitzpatrick will be the starter. And there are several holes to fill, including offensive line, running back, tight end, linebacker and cornerback. What happens to Revis remains unknown, although Johnson said it will be strictly a football decision by Bowles and Maccagnan. Sheldon Richardson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are others with uncertain futures.
But Johnson believes he owes it to himself to play the long game here and not overreact after one lousy season. In an increasingly impatient sports world, where change occurs at an alarmingly fast rate, Johnson insists he wasn’t tempted to follow the path of the Bills, who got rid of Ryan after two seasons, and the 49ers, who dumped Chip Kelly after just one.
It may turn out that Bowles and/or Maccagnan can’t get the job done, but two years isn’t enough time to make a final judgment. That’s why it makes sense for Johnson to stay the course for now and not make sweeping changes that might feel good in the short term but don’t work over the long haul.