FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Black Monday, the day that underperforming head coaches around the NFL find out their services no longer are wanted, is almost upon us. As always, the list figures to be long, what with owners' increasing impatience and fans' increasing demands to see a winner.
Rex Ryan should not be on this list. He should be back as the Jets' coach in 2014.
Ryan has done a credible job with this year's team, and getting rid of him when there have been so many promising developments in a rebuilding situation would be the wrong move.
Ryan is signed for 2014, and if he is not allowed to continue -- if owner Woody Johnson and first-year general manager John Idzik decide to cut ties with him -- it would be the wrong move at the wrong time by a team that is headed in the right direction and should be a playoff contender next season.
In fact, with a few breaks this season, the Jets might have gotten into the postseason. They were 5-4 with wins over the Patriots and Saints -- with a rookie quarterback, no less -- and they still were alive in the fourth quarter of a Week 15 game against the Panthers. Had they not given up a blocked punt that set up a touchdown, and had that rookie quarterback not thrown a pick-6, the Jets might be playing the Dolphins on Sunday with a playoff berth on the line.
Sure, you can woulda-coulda-shoulda just about any team. But this team? This team entered the season with zero expectations from anyone outside the locker room. None. Had you told someone that the Jets would be starting Geno Smith all season, would beat the Patriots and Saints, and would get to within a field goal in the fourth quarter on the road against a Panthers team that might be the most improved team in the league, you'd have been mocked.
The Jets were pegged for three or four wins, tops. Everywhere. Including this space. No way did I expect them to be in it for as long as they were. Especially with Smith going the entire way.
But Ryan took a revamped team featuring young players at almost every key spot and turned it into a solid unit that showed plenty of improvement. There's a chance to finish the season at 8-8, and a chance to go into next season with roster stability that figures to improve with another offseason for Idzik to add to the mix.
I've felt all along that Idzik would be a capable executive, that he'd provide just the right dynamic in the draft room and free agency. That is proving to be the case.
Idzik has been very good for Ryan, who held too much sway in the draft and free agency until now. Ryan has benefited from a GM who will more often than not side with a scouting department that spends the entire year on the draft and free-agency process, not a coaching staff that studies available college and pro players for a few weeks in the offseason.
Idzik wisely traded away Darrelle Revis and drafted Sheldon Richardson -- who likely will be the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year -- Dee Milliner and Smith, who has matured nicely this season. The Chris Ivory trade was terrific.
Up next: Finding a big-time receiver and potentially another quarterback if the GM has a conviction on one.
Idzik is providing the players and Ryan is coaching them up, just as the GM/coach dynamic is supposed to work. Blow it up now, and this year's rookie class essentially would be a rookie class all over again next year, having to learn new offensive and defensive systems under a new coach.
Ryan is one of the best defensive coaches around, and his moves to hire veteran assistants such as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach David Lee have paid huge dividends. Ryan gets it now on offense and has the right coaches in place to build a lasting foundation.
Bring in a new coach and a new staff, and you're starting all over again. And tell me, what coach out there is better than the one the Jets have now?
The answer: There isn't one.
Ryan has the ear of his team, and his players swear by him. And when he says this is an ascending team, he's correct; it figures to get even better.
Remember, too, that Ryan embraces the New York market, which absolutely plays in his favor and is a factor in any new coach taking over. Ryan has calibrated his approach just right: No more over-the-top guarantees and no more circus atmosphere, but no loss of outward confidence, either.
And Johnson should know this better than anyone else: Since Ryan has been the coach, he has given the Jets something they've seldom had since the Joe Namath years: Relevancy.
Put it all together and it adds up to one inescapable conclusion:
Ryan should be back in 2014.