Commentary

Woody better watch his mouth

Rex Ryan and Jets are keeping quiet, but owner continues to make waves

Updated: April 4, 2012, 8:01 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

You could've gotten long odds in January that owner Woody Johnson would emerge as the New York Jets' loosest loose cannon of the offseason. But while Rex Ryan has promised to re-assess how he coaches, and Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez and even the once-loquacious Bart Scott have almost completely clammed up because of the ugly way last season ended, there was Johnson on Monday saying he'd actually consider a re-do of the HBO series "Hard Knocks" -- this after Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum had waved off the possibility in the past two weeks.

Woody Johnson
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiSounds like Woody Johnson wants to see his team back on HBO again.

"I thought ["Hard Knocks"] was a tremendous value," Johnson said, speaking at the opening of an NFL store in Manhattan. "I think the fan got to know the team a lot better. I've heard nothing but positives."

Tannenbaum backtracked later in the day and explained he just assumed the Jets wouldn't be invited back.

But really, who is Tannenbaum kidding? The Jets are a melodrama that's absolutely made for reality TV. And every new naked bootleg that Johnson takes off on with his words or deeds is yet another potential storyline.

Is not Johnson suddenly emerging as the highest-profile owner in New York in the void left by The Boss' death and the Wilpons' financial misadventures and James Dolan's disappearance into the MSG/Cablevision foxhole? Johnson is even bringing out a little of the tough guy in previously understated Giants owner John Mara.

It was Johnson, remember, who earlier last month claimed the Jets "passed" on free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning, not the other way around.

That was a good one, told with a straight face.

Then Johnson said the Jets' acquisition of Tim Tebow not long after giving their embattled incumbent quarterback, Mark Sanchez, a lucrative contract extension was not a publicity stunt at all -- another claim that will be hard to sustain if HBO is indeed invited back.

Much like the Knicks, who were only too happy to flog Linsanity even though both head coaches they've had this season said Jeremy Lin may yet end up on the bench behind Baron Davis, the Jets seem to think making surefire headlines is a lot more reliable than trusting the franchise will raise its profile by merely winning more games.

The latter approach is a risk. But making news in New York? That's as easy as grabbing low-hanging fruit off a tree. The Jets are good at it. The danger is that Johnson, anyway, still seems unconvinced that publicity for publicity's sake can have a corrosive effect.

And Johnson has already been proven wrong.

The sight of Holmes shouting at teammates in the huddle and then being benched for the rest of the Jets' last game by departed offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was no mirage. In the days that followed, the accusations of a divided Jets locker room and flagging confidence in Sanchez were not made up -- Ryan confirmed all that himself the day after the season ended, and the intra-squad public sniping still only got worse.

More recently, the Jets' conceit that they can manage Tebow-mania suffered its first hit almost immediately. They set up 80 chairs for his introductory news conference and then issued more than 200 media credentials. It was a harmless mistake, but a gross miscalculation of the Tebow undertow just the same.

All of this could blossom into more serious problems for Tannenbaum and Ryan. They could very well see Johnson put them on the same hot seat that so many of Steinbrenner's past managers and GMs ended up on when The Boss thundered he wanted something done, and the unstated caveat was, "And if I'm wrong, you're fired."

It's too early to say Johnson and Tannenbaum and Ryan are operating on separate tracks. But it is something to watch. Owners get disenchanted with the help all the time. Johnson's characterization of HBO providing "good value" while blithely dismissing the possible distractions does suggest that the business side of the team could be muscling into on-field decisions. Though Tannenbaum backtracked Monday, Ryan's remarks -- made last week at the league meetings when asked about HBO's first visit in 2010 -- still stand: "At the time, I thought 'Hard Knocks' was good for us. We had nothing to hide. … I don't know about all that right now. I guess I need time to think about it."

Johnson has a pattern of acting out and making splashy decisions when the Jets dip and/or the Giants' profile rises higher than the Jets.

The Giants' Mara has clearly enjoyed seizing a few chances to rub in his team's second Super Bowl win during Johnson's tenure with some offseason zingers aimed at the Jets. Even Giants coach Tom Coughlin threw a few jabs at the recently concluded league meetings -- the same Coughlin whose playoff-run slogan last season was, "Talk is cheap. Play the game."

The Jets still don't think that way. Or at least Johnson doesn't.

When the going gets tough, Woody gets louder.

So much for the NFL being a copycat league.

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