Commentary

Idzik brings fresh start to rotten Jets

A dose of clear-eyed sanity seems to be finally creeping back into the franchise

Updated: May 1, 2013, 4:01 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

The idea that the Jets are going to stink extravagantly in 2013 is accepted as gospel. So how is it possible to feel so much better about them anyway? How can that be?

It's a counterintuitive, even odd thing to say. The Jets are convening with their new draft picks for the first time just this week. But the feeling has everything to do with the early days of John Idzik's new regime -- or more specifically, the way the Jets' first-time general manager inherited the NFL equivalent of a hazmat site when he arrived and, in a very short time, has nonetheless sparked a little belief that the coming pain will be worth it for the franchise, for a change.

[+] EnlargeJohn Idzik
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsGeneral manager John Idzik has acted swiftly and confidently since joining the Jets.

Jets fans know pain too well. But the Jets' recent big-tent policy -- give us your malcontents, your knuckleheads, your loudmouth preeners and we'll proudly display them center stage in a miniseries on HBO -- feels as if it could be over since Idzik's arrival.

The clown car that used to jolt to a stop outside Florham Park is parked on a back lot. A little clear-eyed sanity finally -- finally! -- seems to be creeping back into a franchise that hasn't been known for serious-minded management the past few years. Rex Ryan's goofy Sanchez tattoo is the least of it.

The wrongheadedness of bringing Tim Tebow here was gallingly obvious from the moment he arrived. Yet somehow, when Idzik cut poor Tebow on Monday -- another absurdity finally acknowledged -- it still felt refreshing when Ryan conceded for the first time what he should've said long ago: Tebow's treatment here was crazier than bringing him here in the first place.

Of course, by then it was too little, too late.

The Jets have been crying out for a reality check.

They were in denial before the Rex Tilt-a-Wheel gave way to Neutered Rex.

Idzik took over a lot of situations that had exploding-cigar potential. And yet, from the start, he has shown a sure hand and willingness to make hard choices across the board. He drafted Geno Smith after everyone else passed on him in the first round, rattled Mark Sanchez's cage, got the salary-cap mess that Mike Tannenbaum left him under better control, and traded Darrelle Revis on the Jets' timetable, not Revis' or the Bucs' -- then objected in a calm but firm way when asked about Revis' parting insinuation that he was untruthful with him.

"Absolutely not," Idzik said this week on "The Mike Lupica Show" on ESPN NY 98.7. "I'll be called a lot of names, have been in my career, will be in the future. Dishonest is not one of them. Anyone that's worked with me directly, anyone that knows me, knows that. ... Honesty and integrity will always be a calling card of the Jets. It's always been a big part of who I am. That will never change."

It's not often a new guy takes on his franchise's potential Hall of Fame player and doesn't flinch before or after shipping him out of town.

And that should only inspire faith about Idzik's ability to make the right call on Ryan's fate.

That could be delicate for a different new guy in town since owner Woody Johnson kept Rex when Tannenbaum was fired. But Idzik has calmly made no apologies for letting Ryan roll into this year on a hot seat that this new GM made only hotter by letting so many of last year's starters walk in free agency.

The Jets are a teardown, not a tweak. Idzik has made no bones about that either.

What's been astonishing is how quickly long-suffering Jets fans have accepted that this is going to require a little patience.

Patience is so not New York. And again, the explanation has to be this: It's been a blast of fresh air and hope to finally have someone at Florham Park who frames things with reality as his guide -- not bravado, not bluster, not inexplicably bad judgments about things that seem so obvious to everyone else.

And that felt especially true again at the retro sight of Rex reminding folks earlier this week, "I think our football team, since I've been here as head coach, has actually won more playoff games than the New England Patriots. I'm just throwing that out there because it seems like it gets lost."

Oh no.

Still with the Belichick thing, Rex? Still?

Ryan willfully ignored the many, many other games the Jets lost.

Or how they haven't even made the postseason the past two years.

Or how it's never a good thing when the Butt Fumble is your most-watched highlight of 2012.

No matter.

Idzik seems to have a strong grasp of the truth. He seems to have an idea of how to run a team, how to manage the message, how to confront conflict or brush fires and not flinch even under the threat of personal attack. It's also nice to be confronted with a Jets GM who stresses "integrity" over being suspected of making moves to sell PSLs. He's been very good at explaining his philosophical planks in clear language too. The coddling is over. He says competition, the pressure to perform, breeds better football teams.

Of course, we still don't know if Idzik has an eye for talent evaluation. Again, it's very, very early in his stay. Yet even to a cynic, it feels as though the Jets' circus has been replaced by an encounter group run by a grown-up who demands genuine accountability. And his name is not Rex.

That's reason enough to drop the black humor and dare to believe that better days are ahead for the Jets, distant as they may be.

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