- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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One week after an embarrassing, late-season meltdown, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan all but gutted his offensive coaching staff, including embattled coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
The Jets announced late Tuesday night that Schottenheimer won't return in 2012. League and team sources told senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that the Jets have had former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano as their top choice to replace Schottenheimer in the event of a vacancy. The sources said the Jets are expected to announce Sparano's hiring Wednesday.
Schottenheimer, in a statement released by the team, said it was his decision not to come back. In reality, the Jets decided before the final game to go in another direction, according to league sources.
The team's announcement came less than two hours after Schottenheimer had lost out to Mike Mularkey for the Jacksonville Jaguars' head-coaching vacancy.
Schottenheimer interviewed with Jacksonville last Friday. If he had gotten the job, the Jets would have been off the hook for the $3.2 million remaining on the contract extension he was given after last year's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Meanwhile, former Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who some thought would wind up in Arizona, will visit the Jets on Wednesday, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The Jets on Tuesday parted ways with offensive line coach Bill Callahan as well as receivers coach Henry Ellard, both of whom had expiring contracts. Callahan was a possibility to succeed Schottenheimer, but he was hired by the Dallas Cowboys to replace retiring line coach Hudson Houck.
Haley could get the assistant head coaching title that Callahan left behind, a source told Schefter.
Sparano has no experience as a coordinator, although he did call plays for the Cowboys in 2006. He made his bones as an offensive line coach, an indication that Ryan wants to get back to a run-oriented style. However, the Jets' No. 1 priority will be to fix slumping quarterback Mark Sanchez and Sparano struggled to develop Chad Henne in Miami. The Jets have expressed interest in former Chiefs coach Todd Haley, whose specialty is the passing game.
In six seasons as the Jets' coordinator, the last three under Ryan, Schottenheimer was a lightning rod for criticism. His ouster will be applauded by an angry fan base, which saw the Jets plummet to 29th in total offense and watched as Sanchez regressed in his third season.
"After much thought and consideration, I have decided not to return to the New York Jets in 2012," Schottenheimer said. "I am very proud of what we have accomplished in the six years I have been here. I am grateful for the relationships that I have with our players and coaches and appreciate the hard work and dedication that went into our success. My family and I would like to thank Rex Ryan and the entire Jets organization and wish them continued success. I look forward to the exciting opportunities that lie ahead."
Schottenheimer had three starting quarterbacks in six years and was handed a flawed offensive cast in 2011, led by a receiving corps that failed to live up to expectations. The Jets scored only 50 points over the final three games -- all losses, finishing 8-8 -- and imploded when Santonio Holmes was benched late in the final game for sulking.
That was Schottenheimer's final act, pulling Holmes after the receiver jawed with teammates in the huddle.
Publicly, Ryan gave lukewarm endorsements to Schottenheimer over the final two weeks of the season, later saying he expected Schottenheimer back as the coordinator if he didn't land a head-coaching job. But Ryan gave Schottenheimer permission to pursue any available opportunity, sources said.
Schottenheimer's fate was sealed with the Week 16 loss to the New York Giants, when Sanchez attempted a career-high 59 passes.
"Brian and I talked and I understand his decision to look for a fresh start," Ryan said in a statement, adding, "He's been right there with me, shoulder to shoulder, and played a key role in our success, helping us to reach two AFC Championship Games. As I've said before, coaching is in his bloodlines, he has a tremendous work ethic and I consider myself fortunate to have worked with him. He has acquired a lot of experience at a young age and has a bright future in front of him. I know that he will be a successful head coach one day -- probably sooner than later."
Because Sparano's background is the running game, the Jets will likely need to hire a passing guru to help Sanchez (Haley?) -- assuming current quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh isn't retained. Running backs coach Anthony Lynn, who worked with Sparano in Dallas, is a good bet to stay. Tight ends coach Mike Devlin could be a consideration to coach the line.
Schottenheimer wasn't Ryan's first choice for offensive coordinator when Ryan was hired as coach in 2009, but management convinced him to retain Schottenheimer.
The two made back-to-back appearances in the AFC title game 2009 and 2010, but weren't a philosophical match. Ryan wanted a run-oriented offense, while Schottenheimer preferred balance and creativity in the passing game.
The Jets then hired offensive guru Tom Moore last summer as a consultant and when the offense was struggling in late November, Ryan made Moore a full-time consultant.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen contributed to this report.
2hEric D. Williams
1dBy Ian O'Connor