FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It was Rex Ryan's "ultimate" news conference.
In a 20-minute sparring session Wednesday with reporters, the New York Jets coach kept turning quarterback-related questions into self-evaluations.
There was this: "Ultimately, I know I'm the guy responsible, and this team is my team and we're 6-8."
And this: "Like I say, I'm the guy that's ultimately responsible."
And finally: "I'm the guy that's ultimately accountable. I haven't shied away from that, not one day."
If somebody had asked about the federal budget deficit, Ryan probably would've taken responsibility for that, too. You have to commend a man for owning up to his mistakes, but this wasn't "buck-stops-with-me" bluster.
Frankly, Ryan sounded defeated. He looked defeated. He didn't give any insightful, second-day explanations on the quarterback decision or the quarterback mess he helped to create. At times, he stumbled on pointed questions about Tim Tebow. He did more waffling than Eggo.
Ryan came across as a coach worried about getting fired -- or expecting to get fired. It was stunning because this is a coach -- in his brash days -- who claimed he was fire-proof. Ah, yes, remember those wonder years?
This is a tough time of year for losing NFL franchises, teams playing out the string and worrying about job security. The Jets haven't been in this situation since 2007. As guard Matt Slauson said, "It's sad." This is their second straight non-playoff season, and a lot of folks at One Jets Drive are wondering if owner Woody Johnson will blow it up and start over.
If Ryan is willing to adjust his offensive philosophy, shifting to a more wide-open, quarterback-friendly system, he deserves another chance to right this franchise. Yes, he has mismanaged the quarterback situation, especially these last few weeks, but one bad season out of four shouldn't warrant a pink slip.
Continuity is important in the NFL, but the Jets have an owner who falls out of love quickly. Late in 2005, with rumors swirling about Herm Edwards' future, Johnson declared his faith in Edwards and insisted he wasn't going anywhere. A few weeks later, they basically traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Johnson made a complete shift in organizational philosophy, going from the ultimate player's coach (Edwards) to a Belichick-like control freak (Eric Mangini). After three years, he got tired of that and went back the other way, hiring Ryan.
Now, who knows?
Johnson didn't look too happy as he walked briskly out of LP Field after Monday night's debacle. He said he'd address the media after the season. General manager Mike Tannenbaum, on the hot seat, also is waiting until it's over to comment publicly.
In other words, the Jets are in a holding pattern, bracing for the puffs of smoke to emerge from Johnson's chimney.
Nationally, the Jets are perceived as a joke because of their three-quarterback circus. It made for a surreal scene Wednesday in the locker room, where Tebow, Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy attracted dozens of reporters in separate interview sessions.
"I've never seen anything like this before," said veteran defensive tackle Mike DeVito, looking on in amazement.
Quarterback instability is a bad sign for a franchise. In this case, a lot of it falls on Ryan, who has made curious decisions. A year ago, his mea culpa was losing the "pulse" of the locker room. This year, it's the quarterback chaos.
Desperate coaches tend to make wacky moves with their quarterbacks. A long time ago, 1989, the Jets got off to a 1-4 start and Joe Walton benched starter Ken O'Brien in favor of third-stringer Kyle Mackey, who had barely played. Walton passed over No. 2 quarterback Pat Ryan the way Ryan passed over Tebow. Mackey was a disaster in his only start, and Walton ended up getting fired after the season.
Ryan is in better shape than Walton, but he didn't sound like a confident coach Wednesday, with 12 days left in a bitterly disappointing season.