- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Woody Johnson, clueless rich guy, does not merely need a new executive to pick his football players; he needs a new man to coach them. Rex Ryan cannot survive what happened to his New York Jets on Thanksgiving night, not when he spent the holiday booking a seat next to Mike Tannenbaum on the next express out of town.
It's as clear as the scoreboard that announced the Jets as 49-19 losers to the New England Patriots, as clear as the tests that showed Tim Tebow had two fractured ribs and no business being on Ryan's active roster:
Rex was born to be a top-shelf defensive coordinator, or TV's next John Madden, or a standup comic at some casino in Vegas.
He wasn't born to be an NFL head coach any more than his father Buddy was born to be an NFL head coach, and nobody's taking any pleasure in making that claim. Ryan comes across as good people, and he makes most weekdays spent in his company a little less predictable and a lot more fun.
But he admitted losing control of his team and locker room in 2011, and he no longer needs to make that admission in 2012. His Jets said it all for him when they spotted the Patriots 35 second-quarter points, allowed them to score 21 of those points in 52 unforgettable seconds, and all but put Rich Kotite's worst hours to shame.
Johnson will ride out the rest of this lost season with Tannenbaum and Ryan, but he has to begin making some back-room moves now. Today, not tomorrow. He needs to start putting out feelers to the free-agent likes of Sean Payton, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher, and to the biggest stars of the college game, the Nick Sabans and the Chip and Brian Kellys and the David Shaws.
This unmitigated 4-7 disaster isn't only about Tannenbaum, the GM who made so many dreadful decisions in assembling this team, starting with the skill people around Mark Sanchez who were so incredibly short on, you know, skill.
As much as Tannenbaum failed Sanchez and his head coach, Ryan failed the entire organization and fan base by hiring the wrong offensive coordinator (Tony Sparano), by mismanaging Tebow all season, and by pushing the wrong human buttons in the locker room for a second consecutive year.
Asked if he is concerned that he's losing his team yet again, Ryan claimed he harbored no such fear. Only the coach no longer speaks with any credibility. The same Jets Ryan claimed had "a chance to be the best team that I've had since I've been the coach here" embarrassed themselves in the first half with three lost fumbles -- two of them returned for touchdowns on back-to-back plays that the label Same Old Jets couldn't begin to describe.
Stranded on a broken play of his own design, Sanchez scrambled straight into Brandon Moore's rump, knocking himself flat and knocking the ball into the hands of Steve Gregory, an ex-Jets fan from Staten Island who raced into the end zone to punctuate a personal half out of Jim Thorpe's wildest dreams. As he planted his hands and facemask into the MetLife turf, Sanchez knew he'd guaranteed himself a permanent place in a century's worth of blooper reels.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Joe McKnight fumbled the ball into the arms of Julian Edelman, who coasted in for a 22-yard touchdown. Jets fans will remember this sequence as no less humiliating than Dan Marino's fake spike.
It was 35-0 before the Jets kicked a field goal with two seconds left in the half, setting off a fireworks display above the stadium and sending four staffers to the corners of the end zones to wave extra-large team flags. The scene was reminiscent of the New York Knicks' decision last spring to drop confetti from the Garden ceiling after they avoided a first-round sweep against the Miami Heat and scored their first single-game playoff victory in 11 years.
But today's Knicks are in much better shape than today's Jets, who won the coin toss and elected to defer to an opponent that would reduce the home team to the size of the coin in the toss. On arrival in 2009, Ryan promised he hadn't taken the Jets job for the purpose of kissing Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings. Rex didn't just drop down to a knee and kiss them inside MetLife Stadium; he polished them up and asked Belichick if he could order him another one.
"A nightmare of a game," Rex called it, before conceding that his unit, the defense, had offered no resistance to New England's no-Gronk, no-problem offense. The Patriots' five touchdowns in one quarter, Rex conceded, amounted to something "almost impossible to do."
Anything is possible against these Jets, who had one healthy quarterback in uniform for their biggest game to date. Ryan saw Tebow's injury grow worse over the course of the week, noticed some labored breathing, and still decided to dress the world's most famous second-stringer instead of the quarterback who didn't have two busted ribs, Greg McElroy.
No matter what Tebow said about his availability, Ryan's call was dangerous and irresponsible and indicative of the poor judgment he has shown since his second trip to the AFC Championship Game, a game in Pittsburgh his team wasn't ready to play.
Last year Ryan promised the franchise its first championship since man walked on the moon, mocked Tom Coughlin's Giants in the days preceding their Christmas Eve clash, and then watched his team implode before its big-brother neighbor landed in another ticker-tape parade.
Allegedly humbled by the beatdowns and enlightened by the unnecessary stress he was putting on his players, Ryan opened 2012 by dialing back his outsize persona. That didn't work either, not even close. The Jets might be hearing him, but they're definitely not listening to him.
"I know our fans deserve a heck of a lot better than this," Ryan said.
Yes they do. They deserve better than Ryan's ever-weakening defense, better than Rex's blind devotion to Sanchez, better than his empty pledges that the Jets will rebound, and better than his call to suit up a battered Tebow.
Of the fans, Ryan said, "I don't blame them for booing me." At the end of his postgame news conference the coach was asked if he believes he'll make it to 2013.
"I do," he said, "and I think our team will play a heck of a lot better. And I don't believe anybody will ask that question by the time the year's over."
Even if the Jets win three or four of their final five against teams with a combined 17-33 record, Woody Johnson shouldn't be fooled into sticking with the same management group. Tannenbaum needs to go and Ryan's no-ring circus needs to go with him, and the billionaire needs to pick up the tab.
Johnson must lure a Payton or a Dungy, or the next college coach who can make the kind of transition to the NFL made by Jim Harbaugh, a 34-0 winner over Ryan in September. Rex coulda beena contenda, but now he's gone ahead and knocked himself out.
Hey, it was fun while it lasted.
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1dEric D. Williams