FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Woody Johnson looked relaxed as he took reporters' questions after announcing his decision to fire coach Rex Ryan after six seasons and general manager John Idzik after two years. Sitting alone at the front of the press briefing room, the Jets' owner addressed the issues afflicting his 4-12 franchise and seemed at ease as he approaches what he called a "very, very critical'' time.
Perhaps it was two people who weren't in the room who gave Johnson the biggest reason to feel self-assured about the two biggest decisions facing his team. With former NFL GMs Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf now serving as full-time consultants in the hiring of the next coach and GM, he has the benefit of two excellent football minds to help shape the Jets' immediate and long-term future.
Casserly and Wolf are working behind the scenes, lining up candidates to fill both jobs. It is a process that the Jets hope will be as swift as possible, but it could be affected by the schedules of coaching candidates whose teams are in the playoffs. Hot prospects such as Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, for example, are in the postseason and can only interview for the positions.
Casserly and Wolf have extensive backgrounds in making personnel and coaching decisions, and their expertise should be welcome.
Johnson hasn't been in the position of having to hire a coach and GM at the same time in a while. In 2000, Bill Parcells was his GM and Al Groh was hired as coach after Bill Belichick bolted for the Patriots after one day as HC of the NYJ. A year later, after Parcells stepped down, Johnson accepted Parcells' recommendation of Terry Bradway as GM, and Herm Edwards was the choice as coach.
Having Casserly and Wolf involved in a much more active role than Parcells had -- he recommended Bradway, Giants personnel man Rick Donahue and Bucs scouting director Jerry Angelo -- will expand the parameters of the search and help Johnson line up worthy candidates. There are good people out there, and Casserly and Wolf can identify them.
Both former executives are part of the NFL's career development advisory panel and have been actively studying future head coaches and GMs for the last year and a half. Casserly has had two stints as GM -- one in Washington, where he won a Super Bowl title alongside Joe Gibbs after taking over for former GM Bobby Beathard, and the other with expansion Houston, where he worked six years. There were some misses along the way, but he drafted 15 Pro Bowl players and understands the challenges and intricacies of running a front office.
Wolf's qualifications are beyond reproach. A former personnel director with the Jets, he became the Packers' GM in 1991 and eventually built Green Bay into a Super Bowl champion. His three biggest moves were hiring Mike Holmgren as coach, trading for Falcons quarterback Brett Favre and signing Eagles free-agent defensive end Reggie White. The three moves were instrumental in building a Packers team that won the Super Bowl title after the 1996 season and lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl the year after that.
Next month, Wolf is expected to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The last time Johnson used an outside group to recommend a key hire, he turned to a consulting company after firing GM Mike Tannenbaum. After an exhaustive search in which the Jets were rebuffed by first choice Dave Caldwell, who took the Jacksonville job, the Jets settled on Seahawks executive John Idzik. That two-year run ended Monday, with Johnson needing to start from scratch after admitting the awkward arrangement of having a GM inherit a head coach simply didn't work.
Idzik proved to be too heavy-handed in his dealings with Ryan -- a diametrically opposed dynamic from the Ryan-Tannenbaum relationship -- and Johnson wisely opted to push the reset button rather than risk additional dysfunction.
Johnson hinted that there wasn't enough give-and-take between Ryan and Idzik, and some players thought Idzik was too involved in decisions, such as Geno Smith getting preferential treatment over Michael Vick.
Johnson now has to take the advice of his newly hired consultants and make the right calls on his next coach and GM. The owner has the prerogative to hire anyone of his own choosing, but he would be wise to take the recommendations of Casserly and Wolf.
After coming up short with the Ryan-Idzik partnership, and after failing to intercede when the Jets foolishly brought in Tim Tebow to be a backup to Mark Sanchez, this is no time for meddling. Especially when Johnson has two of the brightest football minds offering him sound advice on two of the most important moves of his 15-year run with the Jets.