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Woody Johnson fires Rex Ryan, John Idzik as Jets head in new direction

Jets owner Woody Johnson talks to the media

Jets owner Woody Johnson talks to the media at the Jets training facility in Florham Park, N.J. on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Woody Johnson felt he had no choice.

After four years of failed expectations and postseason irrelevancy, his organization had come to a crossroad. And the only way he could fix his franchise was to clean house.

His announcement Monday morning that he had decided to fire coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik came a day after the Jets won their season finale in Miami. But the moves were not surprising, given the Jets' 4-12 record.

"We're in the win business and we're not winning. So I think this was something I had to do,'' Johnson said during a news conference at the team's facility. " . . . It was kind of obvious that we had to make the change. It was obvious to me, anyway.''

Simply put, Ryan didn't win enough and Idzik didn't spend enough or make the personnel moves needed to create the "sustainable success'' they often preached. But Johnson shouldered the blame for the state of his team and noted "this is a very, very critical [time] right now. We've got to make some good decisions. We have to structure it properly.''

And with the help of consultants Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf, both former NFL general managers, Johnson believes he's on the right track.

The trio already has assembled a list of head coaching candidates. Johnson said he'll listen to input from his new GM, but he'll make the final call.

Sources said the Jets have scheduled an interview with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in Seattle on Friday and have requested permission to interview Seahawks director of pro personnel Trent Kirchner.

It's unclear whether the new coach will want to retain any of Ryan's assistants or if he'll believe as strongly in Geno Smith as the old regime did. But Johnson expressed confidence in the second-year quarterback. "He's a young quarterback who, in the last five games, has gotten much, much better. The last five games, he's played pretty well. Yesterday, he had a perfect game,'' he said of Smith, who had a career day in the Jets' 37-24 win over the Dolphins. "He'll make better decisions as he moves on. I have confidence in Geno. I really think he could be good.''

The union of Ryan and Idzik was ill-fated from the start. They acted like partners who shared the same vision in front of the cameras, but behind closed doors, it was clear their arranged marriage didn't have a strong enough foundation to survive.

Johnson expressed regret in forcing Ryan on Idzik, saying: "If I could have smoothed it all out and could have gotten into the playoffs both those years, I would have felt better about it. It's tough to look back.''

Asked why he felt it was important to retain Ryan after last season, he said: "Those first two years, he was so phenomenal that we thought there was no reason to make that decision at that point.''

The owner couldn't say for sure if there was "a disconnect'' between his former coach and GM, "but I can tell you the ideal is to have a connect.''

Idzik unwittingly sealed his fate in the offseason when he failed to sign a starting-caliber cornerback and sat on a surplus of cash. "We were going to sign players that we didn't get signed,'' Johnson said. "So we reserved it for that, and maybe we should have spent more. Probably should have spent more.''

Two years is a short time for any GM to implement a long-term plan, but Idzik essentially became radioactive after his midseason review, which included a 19-minute monologue that offered no specifics about his efforts to improve the team.

Johnson praised Idzik for freeing the organization of the "fairly substantial'' salary-cap debt his predecessor Mike Tannenbaum left behind. But the owner promised his next GM will have more of a scouting and personnel background. Johnson also made it clear that he wasn't swayed by the anti-Idzik movement among the fan base. "I work for the fans,'' he said, "but I don't listen to the fans.''

Idzik's departing statement was far more succinct than his midseason review. "I would like to thank Woody Johnson for the opportunity to work with so many fine individuals in the Jets organization and I wish them well going forward,'' he said.

Ryan single-handedly put the franchise back on the football map in 2009 with unabashed bravado and blitz-happy defenses that helped the Jets reach the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons. But exactly one year to the day after Johnson announced that Ryan would return -- Dec. 29, 2013 -- the ultimate players' coach was shown the door.

Before his final exit, Ryan shared a message with his players in the form of a video -- a highlight reel of key Jets plays from his six seasons with the team. "Every week, we see a game film before the game,'' left tackle and Freeport product D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "I think this was like a final one.''

"He had a tremendous impact,'' Johnson said of Ryan, who was 46-50 in the regular season. "He made the team relevant in some respects.''

But as meteoric a rise as Ryan had in his first two seasons, that was as good as it got. From 2011-13, the Jets finished 8-8, 6-10 and 8-8, but few predicted such a dramatic drop-off in 2014.

Nevertheless, when asked what he would tell another NFL owner about Ryan, Johnson said: "I'd take him.''

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