Commentary

Rex Ryan had it coming

Mike Tannenbaum takes the fall, but the coach of the Jets should have, too

Updated: December 31, 2012, 3:43 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Rex Ryan should have been fired, too, as he is no less responsible for the state of the New York Jets than is his former business partner, Mike Tannenbaum, the general manager thrown to the baying wolves by an owner who had no choice.

Woody Johnson needed a new overlord of personnel after his team fielded an offense so bereft of talent and imagination it appeared lifted from a grainy, eight-millimeter game film out of the black-and-white '30s. Too many mistakes in the draft room and the monumental one in the Tim Tebow trade left Tannenbaum on the wrong side of Johnson's desk Monday morning, when the guy doing all the roster trimming since 2006 was the one asked to turn in his playbook.

If you saw the "Hard Knocks" scenes of Tannenbaum cutting loose those poor souls trying to make his team, you might think he had this coming to him. If you recall how Tannenbaum carried out Johnson's orders and fired his BFF, Eric Mangini, despite a 9-7 record and two winning seasons in three attempts, you might think what goes around finally came around.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum
AP Photo/Seth WenigRyan and Tannenbaum have been joined at the hip for four years in Florham Park.

Fine. It's a win-or-else business, and after two consecutive trips to the AFC championship game, Tannenbaum's Jets delivered two consecutive collapses that would've put the Mets to shame.

But guess what? These are Ryan's Jets as much as they are Tannenbaum's Jets. In fact, a neutral observer could argue the gross mismanagement of the 2012 team had a little more to do with coaching than anything else.

So Ryan got better than he deserved from his boss, who released a statement saying that the consulting firm of Korn/Ferry International will help him find Tannenbaum's replacement, and that Ryan deserves to remain the head coach because "he has the passion, the talent, and the drive to successfully lead our team."

On what planet, Woody? And in what league?

Whether it's being ultra-late to discover a player's injury, or being oblivious to the fact an insubordinate star was benched by an assistant (see the Santonio and Schotty show, Miami, Week 17, 2011 season), Ryan is forever the last to know what's happening with his team. On arrival in Florham Park, N.J., four years ago, Rex said he burned to become a better head coach than his father, Buddy, architect of the defense that defined the '85 Chicago Bears.

But like his old man, Ryan was born to be a coordinator, and a great one. Just not the ultimate game-day leader of a franchise. Go ahead and name the last head coach in a major team spot that won a championship, or multiple championships, with a persona as outsized and an approach as loud and wildly inconsistent as Rex's.

The big winners -- the Bill Belichicks and Tom Coughlins and Joe Torres -- almost always have a steadiness running through the core of their programs, with tweaks applied here and there. Ryan has been all over the place the last two years, and it's no coincidence his team has followed suit. If it used to be a compliment when people said the Jets had taken on their coach's personality, it's a compliment no more.

Ryan's program is out of control, and Tannenbaum is hardly the only one to blame for that. Ryan has been a big voice in the drafting and acquiring of talent, or non-talent. Rex was neck-deep in the night moves Tannenbaum made to land Mark Sanchez on the eve of the 2009 draft, and he was right in there with the hiring of Tony Sparano, too.

Widely hailed (especially by himself) as the man everyone wants to play for, Ryan watched the Jets quit on him over the final three weeks of 2011, and again over the final three weeks of 2012. If the players truly wanted to spare their beloved coach from Tannenbaum's fate, they sure had the funniest way of showing it.

The Jets closed the season by losing to three wretched opponents, and that isn't even the half of it. Ryan has shown no ability for developing quarterbacks, even one (Sanchez) he positively had to have out of college, a singular truth that should've been enough to scare Johnson into sacking him.

Instead the owner charged an outside search firm not to find the best executive available, but the best executive available willing to keep Ryan employed.

What a way to run a business. Of course Johnson should've asked Korn/Ferry to identify a highly qualified GM, with no strings attached. And if that highly qualified GM decided he wanted to fire Ryan, or to give him another year, then that's what should've gone down.

But the Jets are the Jets, meaning their lead Korn/Ferry headhunter, Jed Hughes, has already been limited in his search to executives who can live with a coach who has lost 13 of his last 19 games.

In his statement Johnson said he dumped Tannenbaum on Monday morning because the Jets "are not where we want to be, and a new general manager will be critical to getting this team back on the right track."

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan, Mike Tannenbaum
AP Photo/Seth WenigIt's clear the Jets' coach and ex-GM are familiar with organizational dysfunction.

Only Tannenbaum had winning seasons with Mangini, and winning draft picks in Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and David Harris before Ryan walked through the door the way a Wild West sheriff would barrel into a saloon. And though the Tebow deal was panned for the adverse impact it would have on the fragile Sanchez, Tannenbaum did hand Ryan an upgrade at a position of acknowledged weakness -- backup quarterback.

Tebow might've been a lot of things, but as a playoff-game winner in Denver with an 8-5 overall record last season, he was also a much better football player than his Ice Age predecessor, Mark Brunell. If Ryan and Sparano were better at their jobs, they would've done something with Tebow's athleticism other than bury it under an up-the-gut cloud of dust.

If Ryan and Sparano were better at their jobs, Sanchez wouldn't be the severely diminished asset he is today, guaranteed a job next season only because Tannenbaum signed him to a contract extension that never should've been offered.

But if the quarterback position isn't Ryan's thing, neither is common-sense thinking. The same coach who dressed Tebow with broken ribs nearly got Sanchez maimed in a blowout victory over Jacksonville in 2011, when the quarterback took a nasty, unnecessary hit because Ryan wanted a touchdown pass thrown to the previously ignored Plaxico Burress.

All in all, the head coach's judgment has been as bad as his team's performance, as bad as Tannenbaum's hires. So even though Woody Johnson gave him a reprieve, Rex Ryan should understand this:

He didn't deserve one.

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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