It's not often that we get to speak with Woody Johnson.
The Jets owner has really shunned the spotlight since his daughter Casey Johnson was found dead of unknown causes in her Los Angeles apartment Jan. 4. But he opened up a bit when he spoke with the beat writers today and spoke with us on a variety of subjects, including his emotions as he tries to enjoy the Jets' success while coping with the loss of Casey.
Johnson also made it crystal clear that he doesn't want the cloak of secrecy that surrounded The Hangar (aka The Fort as this guy used to call it) during Eric Mangini's tenure. It's been the exact opposite since Rex Ryan came on board and that's the way it's going to stay.
"We've opened this thing up," Johnson said. "I think we finally got the light that we work for our fans, and a lot of it's through you, so we have to tell you everything that we can that's not the secret to Coke or what play we're going to run first when we open up. The fans really deserve everything else, so we like to give a perspective from the coaches, the players, the staff that work here, me and anybody else you can think of that can shed light in terms of what experience you're trying to describe, our foibles, our successes and the fans deserve to know all of that.
"We're going to be open, and if we're not open, you let me know and we'll give you what you want. Knowing that we're going to make mistakes and say things we don't mean and say things in the wrong order and we're going to embarrass ourselves, that's the risk I think we have to take if we're going to be good at this."
Johnson, understanding where things went so wrong with Mangini, even pointed to how opening things up access wise for the media can be a beneficial thing, not detrimental as Mangini thought.
“As I said, you guys are our spokesman in many respects," he said. "You speak to our fans every single day and so your feelings are going to reflect the fans’ feelings, they are going to influence the fans’ feelings and yeah as I said, this is not a secret. I want to include the fans in everything. Every experience that they want – if they want to know something, if they want to experience something I invite them out here. If you want to see practice, if you want to go on the team plane even, if you want to do something we’ll try to make it happen for you because if it’s big for you, it’s big for me.
"I go in the parking lots and I hear these guys every home game and you get a flavor of what’s going on out there. They are a devoted group. The ones who go to the games at home, they are a special group. They always define, ‘You know, I bought my ticket at this. I’m in this section, this is my son, he’s been to his third game.’ And that’s the way they start. Very little criticism believe it or not. They’re feeling it maybe, but they are not saying it to me yet. But they are just enjoying being among their friends, they are enjoying the environment and now they are extremely helpful. They were extremely helpful last year, too, and the previous year, too.”
Johnson said one of his proudest moments as the Jets' owner came after the Jets clobbered the Bengals 37-0 to punch their ticket into the postseason. He was floored by the affection and outpouring the fans gave the players and staff when they circled Giants Stadium to thank the die-hards who braved the bone-chilling temperatures.
"The last game, I think, on a happiness index and judging by looking at the players and the fans the last couple of weeks, I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Mike (Tannenbaum) after the last home win, took the players out of the locker room and we've never done this before, but went on the field to the extent that people were still around the periphery of the field. We shook all those hands, high-fived them and they were just unbelievable. It was a great idea of Mike's to bring everybody out there. Happiness index, that's about as high as it's been so far. I think it can go higher."
Johnson is obviously pleased with Mangini's successor, who has the Jets in the playoffs after a two-year drought. Ryan has breathed new life into this franchise and his personality has become infectious.
"I guess you've got to be respectful of the good fortune that's fallen our way," Johnson said. "When we met Rex, as Mike has reported, he was 45 minutes late, he just had lost a game. But for a guy who had just lost a game and was 45 minutes late, he walked into the room in a way that only Rex, as I've come to know him, could do it. Just with a confidence, an air of humor, he was aplogetic, profusely, and he's just a guy who's extremely comfortable in his own skin. Then, we started talking about his ability, how he puts a team together. He's obviously a defensive guru, but how do you put a team together, and what is teamwork and give me some examples of how you do it.
"After four or five hours of listening to Rex and answering questions, it became -- and even way before that -- pretty apparent that Rex was our guy. We did a very, very thorough, I think, search and we approached the search, the process, the technique. We had a lot of different teams in the building looking at these people from various points of view and their own point of view, not just football staff, either.
"When Rex came in the room, it was obvious. It was obvious to us that this was a guy who deserved a shot and we think we made the right decision."
Of course, we had to discuss the PSLs. Johnson still maintains the Jets went the PSL route because of the amount of loot it took to construct the New Meadowlands Stadium..
“Well the price is reflected in what the stadium actually cost," Johnson said. "I mean, the price in New York is about 40 percent more than it is in Dallas, Texas, as an example because of our cost structure is a little bit different."
Did their recent success affect sales in a positive fashion?
"All I can say is there is a little bit of a frenzy right now, but it started in December," he said. "So I don’t know if it was because of the holiday season or whatever, but people started focusing on buying. It’s been extremely robust. We’re sold out of the non-PSLs recently. Those will turn up because they brought the non-PSLs on the phone and now when they see the stadium, they say, ‘Geez, should I go down?’ And that frees up that seat. There will be hopefully some good seats showing up at some point up there but that’s gone now."
I also asked Johnson if the Jets were going to hold training camp in Cortland again next year, especially given this year's success. Long Island fans particularly weren't happy with the move, and were angered they only held a brief "Family Night" at Hofstra.
"Well if we can make that work again," Johnson said. "We had an extremely positive experience in Cortland. The people are great. I think it did what Rex wanted it to do, in terms of getting people to go out to dinner together and getting people to know each other off the football field. I think that was accomplished, so if we can duplicate that, it would be good."
So what would stand in the way?
"Well, it depends exactly what the coach wants at the end of the year," Johnson said. "The coach has to make that decision."