New York Jets Fire Head Coach Ryan, General Manager Idzik – Wall Street Journal
When Rex Ryan was introduced as coach of the New York Jets in 2009, he proclaimed that within a couple of years, he would take his team to the White House after winning the Super Bowl.
Ryan couldn’t follow through on that decree, and should he win an NFL title, it will have to be with another franchise. Jets owner Woody Johnson on Monday fired the charismatic but fruitless Ryan, who led the team to consecutive AFC championship games in his first two seasons but has missed the playoffs in the past four seasons. The Jets finished the 2014 season with a 4-12 record, their worst finish since 2007.
Also ousted was general manager John Idzik, who left the Seattle Seahawks front office to join the Jets in 2013. The professorial executive oversaw a team that finished with a better-than-expected 8-8 record last season, stirring playoff hopes for 2014. But the team floundered from the start. Angry fans, who eventually bought billboards and aerial ads calling for his firing, blamed Idzik for botching free-agent signings and draft picks.
“After extensive thought and reflection about the current state of our football team, this morning I informed Rex Ryan and John Idzik that they will not be returning for the 2015 season,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “Both Rex and John made significant contributions to the team, and they have my appreciation and gratitude for their efforts and commitment. Over the years, Rex brought the Jets a bold confidence and a couple of great post-season runs, which all of us will remember.”
Johnson didn’t mention Idzik again in the statement.
The Jets had started the process of finding replacements for Ryan and Idzik before Monday’s moves. Near the end of the regular season, Johnson had reached a deal to hire Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, as a consultant to help find a new head coach and general manager.
The franchise will need to hire new leaders within a couple of weeks to adequately prepare for the NFL Draft, which begins on April 30, and the free-agent signing period. The first major scouting event of college players, the Senior Bowl, begins in mid-January.
Despite his mediocre 46-50 record with the Jets, Ryan was one of the most beloved coaches in New York sports history. He endeared himself to football fans during the 2010 season, when the HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks” portrayed him as a jovial, genuine and foul-mouthed leader; in one memorable scene from the show, he led his players to “go get a goddamn snack.”
Players under Ryan embrace his spirit. “I’ve never played for a guy who fought as hard for his players as hard as we fought for him,” Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said at the end of the 2013 season, after Johnson announced that Ryan would return for 2014.
The 52-year-old Ryan comes from a football family. His twin brother, Rob, is the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, while their father, Buddy Ryan, was a former assistant coach for the Jets from 1968-75 before head coaching jobs with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
A graduate of Southwestern Oklahoma State, Rex Ryan spent years as an assistant defensive coach at several colleges and then in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens in 2001. He earned a reputation as a defensive-football pioneer, putting many defenders near the line of scrimmage to confuse the quarterback as to whom was rushing the passer.
Anchored by All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, Ryan’s defense led the Jets to the AFC championship games in 2009 and 2010, but the team has faltered since, hindered by two turnover-prone quarterbacks,
and then Geno Smith.
Ryan also made some serious blunders, the greatest coming in a 2013 preseason game when he inserted Sanchez in the fourth quarter behind a backup offensive line. Sanchez, the presumed starter for the season, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on a sack, forcing Ryan to go with the rookie Smith for the entire year.
Fans who adore Ryan blame Idzik for failing to provide the coach with adequate players. The fired general manager has had only one successful draft pick, Sheldon Richardson, who won the 2013 defensive rookie of the year award. His other first-round pick from 2013, Dee Milliner, struggled in his first year and missed most of 2014 with an injury. His first two selections from the 2014 draft, safety Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro, have had little impact on the field this year. His third, cornerback Dexter McDougle, missed the season with a knee injury. He cut his fourth draft pick, punt returner Jalen Saunders, in September, only to see Saunders play well for the Saints later in the season.
It remains unclear how his big-ticket free-agent signing, Eric Decker, will work out. Decker has played relatively well, catching 74 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns, despite the poor quarterback play of Smith and backup
Ryan has taken responsibility for the Jets’ failures and, in recent weeks, had sounded resigned to his firing. In his last public appearance, after the Jets’ 37-24 win in Miami on Sunday, he said he was proud to be the coach of the Jets.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Ryan said Sunday. “I’m not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that.”
Write to Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com