Rex Ryan is set to return to a familiar scenario in his next incarnation as an NFL coach. Poised to replace Doug Marrone in Buffalo, Ryan inherits a team that is remarkably -- if not disturbingly -- similar to the one he was banished from two weeks ago.
With a big-time defense and a struggling young quarterback, it's Groundhog Day for the charismatic former coach of the Jets. It's also another reminder that Woody Johnson needs to hit a home run when choosing Ryan's replacement, lest the Jets' owner be reminded twice each year of what's gone wrong with his team.
Ryan became the hottest coach on the open market in a highly unusual hiring cycle that indicates how difficult it is to find good help these days in the NFL. In a league that regularly churns out a half-dozen or more head coaches each year, the laws of supply and demand have created a strange set of circumstances indeed.
Consider that Ryan was the most sought-after coach and the first one hired, though he hasn't had a winning season since 2010, when he led the Jets to the second of two straight AFC Championship Game appearances.
Once Jim Harbaugh jumped to Michigan and Super Bowl-winning coaches Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher announced they were staying in the broadcast booth, it was Ryan who shot to the top of the list of available coaches. The Falcons seemed the best fit for Ryan, since they already have a high-caliber passer in Matt Ryan. But the Bills' new owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, made an aggressive push for Ryan, landing a coach who will bring his swagger to western New York and make the Bills relevant for the first time since Jim Kelly led Buffalo to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
But Ryan also inherits a problematic roster situation, because quarterback EJ Manuel regressed so badly in his second NFL season that Marrone benched him for Kyle Orton after only a month. Orton, who wound up retiring after the season, led the Bills to a 9-7 record, their first winning season since 2004. Marrone, looking to leverage a solid coaching job into a more lucrative deal, decided to opt out of his contract, a move that now looks as if it might backfire. The Jets expressed early interest but have since cooled, and the market may have dried up for the former Syracuse coach.
Enter Ryan, who quickly will win over the Bills' locker room the way he did with the Jets, whose players professed their loyalty to him until the very end -- even when Ryan bottomed out at 4-12 to complete his fourth straight non-winning season.
Ryan always commands the room and always wins the news conference, a great deodorant for a losing season. But his time was up with the Jets, and Johnson was right to move on and start anew after four years of diminishing results.
Ryan never did figure out how to win with a middling quarterback, as his six seasons with Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith showed. It's questionable whether he'll get much more out of Manuel, although he at least has a dominant defense to mask the weaknesses on offense. Ryan kept trying and kept failing with Sanchez and Smith, showing his inability to get it right on offense with both quarterbacks. It'll be an upset if things change in Buffalo, although this certainly will be an entertaining team with the magnetic coach running the show.
Johnson, meanwhile, faces the biggest crossroads of his 15-year run as owner and needs to bring in a competent general manager and coach to begin the rebuilding process. He has a capable GM prospect in Texans director of scouting Mike Maccagnan, a veteran scout who can solidify the Jets' front office, just as previously unheralded GM candidates Tom Telesco and Ryan Grigson have done with the Chargers and Colts, respectively.
The bigger hire is the coach, and Johnson needs to make an aggressive move here.
We said at the beginning of the hiring cycle, when it looked as if Marrone had the inside track, that the best man for the job is Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Johnson can't hire Quinn until the Seahawks are out of the playoffs, and that might not be until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 1. But if the reports are true that Johnson was prepared to immediately fly to Seattle if the Seahawks had lost to the Panthers on Saturday night, then he needs to follow through on that commitment by doing whatever he must to land the highly regarded Quinn.
The 2013 Seahawks' Super Bowl run prevented some teams from hiring Quinn last year -- particularly the Browns, who flinched and instead hired Mike Pettine because of the possibility they might lose Quinn to another team. But if Quinn was good enough then, he's good enough now, and Johnson needs to swing boldly to get his man.
I'm told that Quinn is high on the Jets' job and is enthusiastic about returning to his roots in Morristown, New Jersey, a stone's throw from Johnson's gleaming training complex in Florham Park. The fit seems right, even if it requires a few more weeks to make it happen.
With Ryan now getting his next opportunity in the Jets' division, Johnson can't afford to miss on this one.