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Jet weep: Johnson’s ownership at critical juncture

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Woody Johnson spoke softly Monday morning, when his voice was often inaudible among the clicking of cameras and clacking of laptops inside the media room at the New York Jets’ training facility.

But the Jets’ owner promised bold actions less than three hours after firing head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik.

“We’re in a winning business and we’re not winning,” Johnson said. “So I thought this was something I had to do.”

Johnson, who spoke for about 23 minutes, said he hoped to hire a general manager before a head coach. He said he and consultants Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf – a pair of Super Bowl winners as general managers with the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers, respectively – had already reached out to numerous prospective general manager candidates.

The New York Daily News reported later Monday that the Jets also contacted ex-San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who is expected to take over at the University of Michigan on Tuesday.

Whomever the next Jets general manager is, Johnson said he will have a personnel background – a decided change from Idzik, who was a salary cap guru with three franchises before joining the Jets a mere 23 months ago.

“This is very, very critical right now,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to make some good decisions. We have to structure it properly.”

In a potentially interesting wrinkle, Johnson made it clear the head coach will be picked by him, though he added he would welcome input from the general manager.

“You have to be a good manager as well as inspire the team,” Johnson said when asked what he will look for in the next Jets head coach. “Offense, defense, special teams. That means establishing what the goals and opportunities are in each area.”

Johnson’s insistence on retaining Ryan two years ago may have been the biggest factor in Idzik landing with the Jets. Johnson and his business advisors interviewed nearly a dozen candidates before offering the job to Idzik, and the perception throughout the process was the Jets had a hard time filling the position because whomever took it had to keep Ryan.

Johnson admitted Monday he may have made a mistake in asking Idzik to keep Ryan and hinted the Idzik-Ryan relationship – in which Idzik was trying to rebuild the Jets with a coach he inherited while Ryan needed to win now to preserve his own job – was an awkward one.

“I’m not sure if there was a disconnect,” Johnson said. “I can tell you the idea is you have to be on the same page.”

Johnson acknowledged Monday that it has been “telegraphed” for weeks, if not months, that he would be turning the page on both Ryan and Idzik.

Ryan was enormously popular with players, but the capital he earned during his first two seasons — when the Jets reached back-to-back AFC Championship Games – vanished over the past four seasons, during which the Jets went 26-38 and failed to qualify for the playoffs. His fate was sealed when the Jets endured an eight-game losing streak following a season-opening win over the Oakland Raiders this season.

“It was a long run,” Johnson said. “He had a tremendous impact. He made the team relevant.”

Idzik, who was in his second year as the Jets’ general manager, appeared to be on more secure footing entering the season. But his rambling mid-season press conference nine weeks earlier – in which Idzik delivered a 19-minute opening statement before squirming throughout an often contentious question-and-answer session – coupled with a generally poor track record in personnel moves ensured he would not get a third season at the helm.

Of the 19 players drafted by Idzik, only four ended the season as starters for the Jets and only defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson looks like a sure-fire keeper. He drafted three wide receivers this season, none of whom had a catch for the Jets.

In addition, two of the players Idzik signed as free agents – running back Mike Goodson and cornerback Dimitri Patterson – went AWOL on the Jets and were eventually released.

Idzik is just the 27th general manager to be fired or resign after two years or less since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. He is also only the fifth New York-area general manager to last two years or less since 1991.

“It is short, by those standards,” Johnson acknowledged.

Now Johnson must find a pair of men who can raise the standards around the Jets, who haven’t appeared in the Super Bowl since winning it 46 years ago.

Johnson’s 15-season run has been generally successful: The Jets have finished .500 or better 10 times and reached the playoffs six times under his ownership after going .500 or better 21 times and qualifying for the playoffs just eight times in the franchise’s first 40 seasons.

But Johnson has also largely relied on the foundation built way back in the ’90s by Bill Parcells. Each of the first two general managers hired by Johnson, Terry Bradway and Mike Tannenbaum, came from the Parcells tree.

Johnson fared well with Ryan, his first non-Parcells branch, but he must find a more well-rounded head coach than the defensively-minded Ryan and dramatically improve upon Idzik this time around if the Jets are to finally get back to football’s biggest stage.

“I have to get a lot better,” Johnson said.


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