Before making the rounds on "Radio Row" Tuesday at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum agreed to an exclusive interview with ESPNNewYork.com. Here are excerpts from our conversation (his comments on the Tim Tebow trade are included in our news story):
Q: This is your first interview since being fired. What was your initial reaction?
MT: Obviously, I was disappointed, but I certainly understood. Looking back, I’m really thankful to Woody (Johnson). I had 16 great years there, seven as the GM. It was a great, great run. It was really an exciting time for me. I had 16 wonderful years with the organization.
Q: Were you blindsided?
MT: I wasn’t blindsided. When you go 6-10, you know it’s a possibility. I don’t think I was blindsided.
Q: You could make the case that you were undermined by injuries, things out of your control. Do you think you got a raw deal?
MT: We were 6-10 and I understand that. When that happens, everybody’s job is under review. Ultimately, it starts with me. I certainly understand that. Woody had to make a decision. I’m just really appreciative and grateful for the opportunity he gave me. He allowed me to fulfill a childhood dream. When he hired me, I was the youngest GM in the league. I’m really proud of the things we collectively accomplished as an organization over those seven years.
Q: You've been criticized for giving Mark Sanchez a contract extension last March when he still had two years left on his rookie deal. Considering the way he played, do you regret that decision?
MT: At the time we did it, our thinking was, Mark was one of five quarterbacks to win 30 or more games in his first three years. Each year he had been in pro football, he got better in touchdowns, quarterback rating. In the 2011 season, he had 32 touchdowns – 26 throwing, six rushing. He was a young, durable quarterback. Obviously, we didn’t think he’d have 26 turnovers this year.
We thought we were getting cost certainty for a guy we thought would be our quarterback for years to come. That was our thinking when we did it. Obviously, based on this year, it hasn’t worked out that way yet. But I think Mark’s career is far from over.
Q: Do you think your legacy with the Jets will be the Tebow trade?
MT: I just hope my legacy is what my record is. It’s a record that was earned with a lot of great people that I had a laughs and hugs with, a lot of debate with, a lot of late-night meetings, a lot of early-morning strategy sessions. I hope that’s what my legacy is, that I got a chance to work with a lot of wonderful people and an owner that cared deeply about the team.
Q: Looking back on the season, there must be some decisions you wish you could have back. What are you beating yourself up over?
MT: The depth at certain positions. I think we had more depth at certain positions than others. In this salary-cap system, you’re never going to have the perfect player at every position. We just got hit with a lot of injuries. Some were bad luck, some were bad timing. Between that and some things that didn’t bounce our way, the season didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. When you make over 200-plus decisions, there’s some you wish you could have back sometimes.
Q: Do you think you did a bad job as GM?
MT: I think I did the job of a GM who was 61-58 (including playoffs). That’s what our record is over seven years, so there was more good than bad. Obviously, getting agonizingly close to the Super Bowl two years ago, you look back at that. We were five points away in Pittsburgh in a great game, a hostile environment. Last year, we were 8-5 and didn’t get eliminated until the second half of the last game.
Q: How do you think the Darrelle Revis situation will play out?
MT: I'm really proud of the fact that we drafted Darrelle. We’ve been able to figure out two contracts for Darrelle while I was there. In terms of the future, I know all the people involved -- Neil Schwartz, Jonathan Feinsod and John Idzik -- I know those three people pretty well and I think they’ll be thorough in their preparations.
Q: Do you think he'll get traded or re-signed?
MT: I sat in that seat, and it’s not really fair for me to say. Those three people are very good at what they do. They’re very thorough and I’ll watch along with everybody else.
Q: What would you do if you were still in charge?
MT: It’s not fair for me to say because I’m not sitting in that seat anymore.
Q: What was the highlight of your seven years?
MT: It’s hard to say one thing. Even going back to the first year, (we had) a six-game turnaround. We had two first-rounders. People said we were too young, with Nick (Mangold) and Brick (Ferguson) and my inexperience and Brian Schottenheimer’s inexperience and Eric Mangini's inexperience. Going to the playoffs in Year 1, that was a sense of fulfillment and vindication of a lot of things I truly believed in. Working with Rex (Ryan) in Year 1, getting into the playoffs somehow, beating Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in back-to-back playoff games the next year ... that was another thrill, getting agonizingly close to the Super Bowl.
Q: What about the low point?
MT: The day I got let go, for obvious reasons. It was a tough year. The losses were tough to deal with. The wins were satisfying, but the lows were lower than the highs were high. I remember Marty Schottenheimer always said you have 24 hours (to enjoy a win), but it turned into 24 minutes because you were on to the next practice-squad signing or waiver claim.
Q: Do you think the team is better than the current perception?
MT: Without question. I’m excited about the future. There are a lot of good players under contract, and I think John Idzik is going to do a really good job. I’ve known John for a long time. He’s really smart. He’s really thorough. I’m sure he’s going to take the plans that were in place, tweak them and put his thoughts on it. I think the future for the team is really bright.
Q: You have two years left on your contract. What's next? Do you want to stay in football?
MT: I feel really good about my future. This has given me a chance to take a half-step back and look up, and I’m excited about the future. Being there so long, a piece of me will always be a Jet.