- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A day after watching his dysfunctional team implode, and after meeting individually with several players Monday, Rex Ryan offered a stunning mea culpa for someone who prides himself on being a players coach.
"Normally, Im a guy that really has the pulse of this team, and I dont think I had the pulse of the team the way Ive done in the past," Ryan said at a news conference. "When I met with players, I think that became clear to me."
Only a few hours earlier, the New York Jets coach became so emotional in a team meeting that he cried while addressing the importance of unity, according to players.
It was a surreal day for the Jets, who cleaned out their lockers and admitted, almost to a man, their Super Bowl aspirations were undermined by poor team chemistry.
The lowpoint occurred Sunday in Miami, where Santonio Holmes was benched for the final two minutes after jawing with teammates who felt he had quit.
Several players, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Holmes poisoned the locker room throughout the season. Ryan backed offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimers decision to bench Holmes, but he acknowledged there was ongoing turmoil and he vowed to restore harmony to the locker room.
Ryan admitted he made a "huge mistake" by naming six captains before the season -- Holmes was one of them -- because he believes it detracted from the team concept. He said there will be no captains in the future.
"Its not a reflection of anybody in particular, but were not going to have those anymore," said Ryan, who was criticized for the decision to give a 'C' to Holmes.
Ryan said he expects Holmes to return in 2012. He signed a five-year, $45 million contract before the season.
The Jets (8-8) fell well short of their expectations, missing the playoffs for the first time in three years. There was a lack of harmony on offense, and it came to surface in October when Holmes called out the offensive line, sparking a war of words with guard Brandon Moore.
Just last week, Holmes clashed with quarterback Mark Sanchez in a meeting room, team sources told ESPNNewYork.com. It got really ugly in Miami, when Holmes had to be restrained from going after tackle Wayne Hunter in the huddle.
"For whatever reason, I dont think we were as close as a football team as we were the first two years, and now were sitting on the outside looking in," said Ryan, who is 28-20 in three seasons. "Were watching the other teams in playoff games, and we think we should be in. I think thats painful. Beyond belief, thats painful."
That pain poured out of Ryan in the team meeting. He didnt mention Holmes by name, according to players, but he made it clear he was talking about the mercurial wide receiver when he discussed the importance of leadership and supporting teammates and playing through injuries.
"He started off calm ... and he got really emotional, and kind of put his heart out there, pleading with us, saying, 'We have to do a better job, we have to be a team if were going to win,'" guard Matt Slauson said.
"Yeah, he was crying, because he loves us," Slauson added. "He knows what were capable of, and we didnt even come close to our goals and that was sad because we have the players in this room to be an amazing team. We werent even close. He was really disappointed with that."
Ryan confirmed that he choked up in the meeting.
"Im Irish, so what do you want?" he said. "Its hurtful, and Im extremely prideful. I want to be the best. I want to win. Sometimes it comes out like that."
But it wasnt just a Kleenex moment; Ryan also lashed into the team.
"It was a little bit harsher than most end-of-the-year meetings," Moore said. "Everything was spot on. Everybody is frustrated and disappointed."
Ryan wouldn't say which players he met with, and he wouldn't say if he met with Holmes. General manager Mike Tannenbaum, who appeared with Ryan at the news conference -- a likely show of unity -- said he met with more than a dozen players Monday in attempt to uncover answers.
"Clearly, there are a lot of things we all couldve done better," said Tannenbaum, also refusing to say if he met with Holmes.
Holmes refused to speak with reporters. He walked to his locker, grabbed a cardboard box and exited quickly, escorted by a PR official while at least 30 reporters followed in their wake. One player watched the scene unfold, shook his head and said, "What a joke."
Several players dodged reporters. Some appeared shaken as they entered the locker room. Darrelle Revis, one of the most media-friendly players on team, bolted immediately. Bart Scott gave an obscene gesture to a photographer and snapped, "Get that f------- thing out of my face."
The players that stuck around spoke openly about the internal strife that fractured the locker room.
"We talked all year how talented we were," Jim Leonhard said. "Its not talent. Its obviously all the intangibles and things like that. Im not going to point out one guy; it was a lot of different issues. Obviously, things need to change -- and will."
The Jets mortgaged character for talent, jettisoning well-respected veterans such as Jerricho Cotchery and Damien Woody and bringing in Derrick Mason (since traded) and Plaxico Burress to join Holmes in the receiving corps. Burress didnt cause any friction, according to team sources, but they suspect it was because he was on a one-year contract.
"There are a lot of reasons why we didnt have the season we wanted, and chemistry can go on the list for however many numbers go down the page," Moore said.
Now the healing process begins.
"Weve got to find a way -- and I will find a way -- of pulling this team together," Ryan said. "Thats something I always think is a strength of mine."
Not this season.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.