Fifteen years into his tenure as Jets owner, Woody Johnson is facing the most critical decision-making period of his stewardship. Based on his latest move, it looks as if Johnson is prepared to act boldly and decisively to reshape his team from the ashes of this continuing 3-12 nightmare.
The potential hiring of former longtime NFL general manager Charley Casserly as a consultant, should the owner decide to move on from the John Idzik-Rex Ryan era, signals a major step forward for Johnson, who until now has relied on a continuum of front-office and coaching moves with roots that date to his first year as the owner.
Johnson looks ready to make a clean break.
League sources are careful to point out that Casserly will be hired only if Johnson fires Ryan and / or Idzik. But at this point, it would be a major upset if either Idzik or Ryan is back. After all, you don't reach out to hire someone as a consultant unless a major move is in the offing.
My sense is that a major housecleaning -- the biggest of Johnson's run as the owner -- is about to happen.
Casserly, an NFL lifer who started off as an unpaid intern under Hall of Fame coach George Allen in Washington and was a front-office executive for the team's three Super Bowl championships with Joe Gibbs, has a wealth of experience to draw from in helping Johnson make his next moves. But it ultimately will be Johnson's decision to hire the right people to set a course for the future.
I still say Johnson needs to make a serious run at Jim Harbaugh, even if the 49ers' coach is strongly leaning toward the Michigan job. Harbaugh has the cachet that can win over a locker room that remains deeply loyal to Ryan, and his resume at Stanford and San Francisco is as good as any other coach available.
If Harbaugh won't come to the Jets, Johnson will have to take a more traditional route and find the best general manager candidate out there, someone who is steeped in personnel and can identify a promising coach who can deal with the unique challenges the Jets present. That's where Casserly comes in. And perhaps others, too.
Casserly, who did not return several messages Monday, certainly will have his work cut out if Johnson turns to him. But Johnson shouldn't limit his conversations exclusively to Casserly, who wasn't the perfect GM during his stints in Washington and Houston.
He drafted quarterback busts Heath Shuler in Washington and David Carr in Houston, along with some other notable misfires. But he came up with free-agent offensive linemen Joe Jacoby and Jeff Bostic in Washington, correctly chose Mario Williams over Reggie Bush in 2006, and also drafted Andre Johnson, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels during his run with the Texans.
Johnson has met with former Bills, Panthers and Colts GM Bill Polian before, and he should talk some more with the future Hall of Famer.
Give former Packers GM Ron Wolf, who also is headed for Canton, a call.
Speak with former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi, who knows what it is like to work in the New York area and to draft a big-time quarterback in Eli Manning.
And talk to Bill Parcells, who worked for Johnson in 2000 before stepping down as general manager.
It's an important time for Johnson -- the most important of his tenure as the Jets' owner, in fact. His next move will shape the immediate and long-term future of his franchise, and the more experts he can solicit opinions from, the better.
Johnson needs to swing for the fences with Harbaugh, but he'll need to make a major sight adjustment if he can't land the biggest prize in this year's coaching class.
With so much riding on what the Jets' emboldened owner does next, this time he needs to get it right.