Commentary

Rex, Tony bring Tebow to new low

QB's frustration bubbles over toward end of season on brink with Ryan, Sparano

Updated: December 27, 2012, 11:19 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Tim Tebow might have played the game of semantics better than he has played the game of football, insisting he told Rex Ryan only that he loathed his gimmick roles with the New York Jets, not that he was prepared to abandon them.

It really doesn't matter anymore. In fact, it's been just as refreshing to see Tebow expose some raw human emotion as it was to hear Derek Jeter admit he was angry -- a word the shortstop had never uttered publicly about anything -- that Yankees management had used him for batting practice during contract talks in 2010.

Tebow should remember that on his way home to Jacksonville and a place where he won't feel so used and abused. Management has gotten ugly with a lot of big New York stars in the past, Jeter and Don Mattingly and Patrick Ewing and Phil Simms among them, and they did a whole lot more for their teams than Tebow ever did for his.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsRex Ryan never knew what to do with Tim Tebow.

But in assessing Tebow's grisly one-and-done with the Jets, lowlighted by Ryan's decision to replace Mark Sanchez with third-stringer Greg McElroy, this much is clear: Rex and his offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, are far more to blame than tiny Tim himself.

This is what Ryan recalled Wednesday about his take on Tebow's Wildcat qualifications when the Jets acquired him from Denver in March: "He's a full-time quarterback with running back skills. I think that's something that you look at as probably an ideal guy at that spot."

So there it is, folks. The head coach described Tebow as ideal for the very formation Sparano was said to be a leading scholar in, a formation the Jets treated in the preseason as a high-tech weapon that leave opposing defensive coordinators cowering under their covers at night.

A formation that turned out to be a weapon of mass dysfunction.

Ryan and Sparano never had any idea how to use Tebow, and they ultimately provided him with workplace conditions unhealthy enough to turn the sport's ultimate good guy -- an athlete with an even cleaner image than Jeter's -- into a me-centric whiner who landed in Rex's office last week to tell his boss to take this job and shove it. Sort of.

Tebow called his heated exchange with Ryan "a man-to-man conversation" that didn't involve his resignation from the Wildcat and the punt team. "It was just me asking to get an opportunity to play the position I love, which is quarterback," Tebow said. "It wasn't me asking out of anything."

Ryan apparently heard it differently, as Jeremy Kerley was suddenly Mr. Wildcat in the next two practices, especially in Thursday's, before Tebow booked a second meeting with the coach to maintain he was still willing to do all the goofy, non-impactful things Sparano had dreamed up for him. Ryan listened, and then sat Tebow for the entire San Diego game, anyway.

Tebow admitted Wednesday he could've been more clear in delivering his message to Rex in that first meeting, and agreed it's a "possibility" the coach mistook his anger for a formal abdication of duties. Whatever. Tebow got it out there that he's not, in his words, a phony, a fake, a hypocrite or a quitter, and Ryan had no interest in confirming or denying the quarterback's claim. The coach suggested he would take that heated exchange with Tebow to the grave, or at least to his first tell-all book in his post-Jets life.

But Tebow did shed light on the simmering, season-long frustration that exploded over the McElroy promotion when he said he complained to Ryan about Sparano's handling of the Wildcat, about that maddening, two-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust play the coordinator called again, and again, and again.

"Yeah, that was something I said to Coach Ryan," Tebow said, "that I was frustrated running up the middle."

Tebow's success in Denver was built around his athleticism and creativity on the edges, on rollouts designed to leave a defense guessing over whether he'd run or pass. Sparano never rolled Tebow to the left side, his strong side, and let him try to do what he did in going 8-5 last year with the Broncos, including a first-round playoff victory over Pittsburgh.

So the Jets got what they deserved to get: a dormant playmaker on a team with no playmakers, a team destined for a 6-10 or a 7-9 season that won't be Tebow's fault no matter how much some face-saving and butt-saving Jets want the narrative to read that way.

Deep down, even after admitting this whole experience ruined his Christmas, Tebow has to be allowing himself a private little laugh. He knows Ryan and Sparano are probably running him down to their coaching buddies, telling them how much the lefty reliever stinks it up in practice -- the same Ryan and Sparano who went 0-2 against Tebow last year, losing to the Denver quarterback on miracle endgame drives.

The same Ryan and Sparano who have combined to post a combined five non-winning seasons in eight tries as NFL head coaches. The same Ryan and Sparano who were Division II grunts as players, small-college linemen who now confine to the pine one of the greatest Division I players of all time.

It's a whole lot easier to coach the big boys than it is to play with them; don't ever forget that. And Ryan and Sparano failed Tebow in a more staggering way than Urban Meyer failed him at the University of Florida, where Meyer should've spent more time fixing the kid's windup delivery.

Tebow should've been a useful hybrid player when Sanchez was going OK, and he should've been the permanent replacement when Sanchez was not. The ascension of McElroy, career journeyman-to-be, wasn't only unfair to the second-string Tebow, who bulked up on the coaches' orders and who suffered all those Wildcat and punt protector indignities in respectful silence; it was unbecoming of Ryan, who was clearly afraid of what a 2-0 Tebow finish would've said about his own judgment.

Asked if he'd been promised the first crack at replacing Sanchez when he was hired by the Jets, Tebow said, "I'm not going to talk about assurances or what was promised or anything like that."

He looked and sounded wounded, but if Tebow was tough enough to play a high school game with a broken leg, and tough enough to play an NFL game with broken ribs, and tough enough as a goodwill ambassador to assist in circumcisions and build children's hospitals in the Philippines, he'll survive this season with the Jets.

Meanwhile, Ryan and Sparano should be most proud for turning America's most wanted Thanksgiving dinner guest (according to a Nielsen poll) into a self-absorbed Christmastime grinch.

Of this disaster of an experiment, Ryan said, "It's not Tim Tebow's fault."

No Rex, it wasn't. The fault was all yours.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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