WOW, i am really choked up! I met Woody at the Tampa Bay tailgate party put on by Tampa Bay Jets Fan Club. He didn't come with an entourage, just a couple of family members. He gave a great pep rally speech and mingled with the fans, yes, "hung out" with us. Woody shook my hand and took pics with my daughter. He is the Real Deal! Great article, if you are not proud to be "A JET", you are not alive.
March 27, 2010, 7:03 pm
Q. & A. With Woody Johnson
By GREG BISHOP
For the profile on the Jets owner Woody Johnson in The Times on Sunday, I interviewed him on three occasions over two months. I met Johnson once at the new stadium, where we conducted the first interview and took a tour, and twice at his office in New York, which has both a fish tank and a fantastic view of St. Patrickís Cathedral. Over all, we spent about five hours talking about his family, his tenure as owner of the Jets, his hobbies, Johnson & Johnson, his charity work. No topics were off limits.
Having covered the Jets for two and a half seasons, I was surprised that Johnson agreed to talk. But his employees were correct when they said he was in a reflective mood. Some of that stemmed from the death of his daughters Casey in early January, some from Coach Rex Ryanís influence. And part of it, Johnson said repeatedly, was his natural evolution. And some of it, surely, was because the Jets still need to personal seat licenses for the coming season.
Regardless, Johnson had much to say that did not make the article. What follows is a sampling from the three interviews.
Q.When was the first time you wanted to own a team?
A.When I was about 30, they had put a bid out for Tampa Bay. It wasnít the Buccaneers. It was the Tampa franchise, an expansion franchise. Iíd just sold a cable company down there. So I looked at that for a while. And that involved building a team, building a stadium, moving to Tampa, all those things. Thatís a bit much for me. Plus, living in Tampa is not New York.
Q.After a year of courtship, what did you learn about the Jets?
A.Oh, I knew a lot more about football and the economics. Itís pretty hard to figure out the economics, but the economics of football and how to bid, and I talked to everybody I could talk to, at the N.F.L., the non-N.F.L., about what it took to buy a team. It was competitive. It came down to the Dolans and me, and my group.
Actually, Dolan was very gracious. He called me at the end and congratulated me. That was Charles. Charles Dolan.
Q.Did you know about the team history? Same Old Jets and all that?
A.Thatís why the day that Paul Tagliabue announced that Iíd received the votes from my soon-to-be fellow owners, my first promise, or my first promise that I wanted to make, is I wanted to move the team to a stadium that didnít have another teamís name on it. And to attempt to achieve a championship for this team and put a very, very competitive team on the field. Those were my two things, from Day 1. And you could see that if you looked back, back in history, there was a lot of opportunity to improve.
Q.What was the plan?
A.Being surrounded by great people, the smarter the better. Young people that can work together. Like each other. High horsepower. High energy. Itís a small company, so youíve got to do a lot of things. Itís a small enterprise. Youíre exposed to the light of day every day, good, bad. But itís part of the business. And so, itís an environment that itís not for everybody.
I had to recognize that. And I think weíve done a pretty good job of putting a team together, from the football side and the nonfootball side. I think itís excellent.
Youíve got to learn by looking at other teams. You can learn by looking at other businesses, other successful people or events. And try to take all that out. What are the common ingredients?
Q.What other businesses?
A.Well, one of the places that Iíve spent a lot of time looking at is Johnson & Johnson itself. Because a lot of the principles of Johnson & Johnson are ones that Iíve tried to employ with this team. And itís things like, itís decentralized management, even within a company. Itís trusting people to make good decisions, trusting your managers to make good decisions, empowering them, giving them all the assets they need to be successful.
The way the building was designed out there. Today, I was talking to the former chairman of Johnson & Johnson. And he started out in a packaging plant on Route 1 that basically had one entrance for everybody, both the people who worked on the line, and the people who brought the boxes and the management. They all walked in the same door. A good door, all the marble and the couch and all this and that.
Iíve seen a lot of buildings that they separate. The team would come in the back door. And the management and the owner and the fan comes in the front door. Well, we made a quick determination that the doors are exactly the same. Because the symbolism is very important, and itís not lost on the players.
Q.What did you see in Rex Ryan that reminded you of yourself?
A.Thereís two things that really impressed me most about him. The team idea. The idea of really understanding what that four-letter word means is something I had in mind, and it goes back to J&J, and it goes back to the way you treat people, the way you manage people and the way they work together.
Rex, when he started describing team, it was right on target. What it takes to build a team. What are the ingredients? Things like respecting the players, liking the players even. Thatís his modus. Being a good teacher. Having a really, really good knowledge of the Xís and Oís of football. And being able to communicate that.
The second thing would be that heís just comfortable in his own skin. Whatever that is, both the flaws and the positives and everything. I donít think he has a problem with that. And that came through. He was an authentic. His authenticity came through.
Q.How important was it to change the culture?
A.Well, weíve been trying to evolve over the last 10 years. So it wasnít just that. Weíve had a lot of success in the last 10 years, but we havenít found exactly what we wanted. So it wasnít just last year or this year. It was trying to figure out like, who are the New York Jets? And what do you represent? And what are you looking for? Not only this coach, but the team and whatís the philosophy of the Jets?
Q.How would you describe that?
A.Well, Rex has put a pretty good start on that. Itís an evolutionary process. But itís an all-weather team. Youíve got to have a quarterback who can throw in all weather. An all-weather team that other teams donít want to play. Itís got to be a team that can run the ball in December, thatís built on having a strong defense.
Q.What about your recent attempts to be more open?
A.We want to be open. Weíre recognizing that weíre going to make a whole lot of mistakes. Youíre going to say things the wrong way. Youíre going to say things you donít mean. Youíre going to offend people by accident. I donít think any of us want to offend anybody. But that shouldnít get in the way, the fear of doing that shouldnít get in the way of us communicating through you to our fans.
Q.What specific things have you done?
A.This year, we open it up to everybody. The players are available. All the coaches are available. The business people are available. Iím available. That was my directive. We donít want to make this the secret to Coke or whatever. This is not a secret. We want people to enjoy this team however they want to enjoy it. And if itís by getting inside information, thatís good.
Q.In the future?
A.Iím hoping to let the players come out of the tunnel without their helmets on. Iíd like the fans to get to know the players. Itís hard to see a football player. When you look at his teeth, it looks like heís missing teeth, when you look through the helmet. But yeah, when the fans get to know the players, theyíll be very impressed, as I am.
Q.What did you learn from Rex last season?
A.He and I are both pretty optimistic. Heís amazingly optimistic and confident. Every game. Iíve never seen anybody more confident. Iím pretty confident, too. We share that.
Q.What else gives you that feeling?
A.Weíve got the two legs of the stool completely done. The stadiumís going to be finished. Weíve moved into the stadium. And the way itís positioned with the parking lot, itís open. Itís going to be so fabulous. The fans are going to love it. Itís going to be easy to find out where to go. In the old stadium, they had to drive all the way around. So it made traffic really bad. I came in for 10 years, and it was hard for me to find my way around. So that should help a lot.
I think our training facility compared to where we were, compared to really anybody in the N.F.L. is good. It gives us that. Those advantages. We can play on grass. Weíre in the most beautiful community, from a playersí standpoint, from every standpoint. Weíre situated well.
Q.What is the third leg?
The Super Bowl. And now, weíve got a quarterback. Weíve got coaches and a philosophy. This is the first time ever that the Jets have been No. 1 in rushing offense. The running game. No. 1 in defense. Weíve gone as far as any team has with a rookie quarterback in history. So thatís pretty good. So I think weíve got the foundation of something thatís pretty good.
Q.The 2009 season started with previous seasonís end. Can you paint a picture of the night you decided to fire Coach Eric Mangini?
A.It was in my apartment in Manhattan. I mean, I would not say anything bad about Eric Mangini. I could see that we wanted to go in a little different direction.
Iíll go back to the interview with Rex. Itís the team that we were looking at. How do you manage a team? And how do you manage all these individuals in a way that results in that team, the sum of the parts is better than the individual. And thatís really what it takes to win a championship. That was the missing ingredient. Thatís not the missing ingredient anymore.
It was right after our final game. We hadnít talked about it because we were focused on the season. It was pretty apparent that we wanted to move and change directions.
Q.When did you know youíd made the right choice?
A.The minute I met Rex, I knew that if he accepted the job, it was the right choice. His personality comes through loud and clear, immediately. But we did extensive research on him. Heís a great coach. He really is.
Q.Did you think back to everything you went through before making that playoff run?
A.Well, I wasnít looking back. I was looking forward probably more. I remember the West Side stadium, and that was part of our guarantee; not guarantee, but what we said we wanted to do Day 1. We said we wanted to get a stadium. Weíd been in somebody elseís stadium too long. So that was part of the process to get us where we are today.
Q.You got your coach, your quarterback, your stadium, your facility, all in three years.
A.Itís amazing the way it all came together. Itís just, itís incredible.
Q.Any particularly poignant moment with the fans?
A.Itís poignant that the fans are generally like I am. Theyíre optimistic. I never hear the ďSame Old JetsĒ when Iím out there. And I havenít, really, ever. Theyíre very optimistic. They think theyíre going to win each week, just like I do. Theyíre there. Theyíre enjoying themselves. Theyíre enjoying their friends. So thatís another thing. Thatís a moniker that I donít like.
Q.How do you plan to capitalize?
A.We just continue to do what weíre doing. We have to get better every year. Because our competition is right next to us, looking at us. We have to be better. We canít do exactly what we did. We have to come up with a new version for the next season.
Q.Stories often paint you as reclusive billionaire. Do you agree?
A.I donít see myself quite that way. At this point.
Q.You take a foot scooter to work?
A.Thatís how I go to work every day, when itís not raining. Itís a kick scooter. Two wheels on the front, one on the back. Itís relatively safe. You only fall about, oh, what, every, maybe month and a half. Iíd say itís about a month and a half between spills. You wear gloves.
Q.Are you recognized?
A.I donít know if I get recognized. Itís such an easy way to go. Iím surprised people donít do it. I can ride all the way to the East Village. It doesnít take that long. You go on the sidewalk. You go on the street.
Q.Describe your mother and father.
A.My mother was born in Minnesota. About 1920, 1921. Her father was a doc. Her two brothers became docs. In those days, quite frankly, in those days women didnít. She went to college, but they didnít study medicine to the extent that they do now. The medical schools are dominated by women. But she I think was the one that would have been the best doc of all, in many respects. Because she loves to help people. She loves medicine. And in the back of her mind, itís something she would, if she were born today, she would definitely dive into it.
But sheís pretty spry. Sheís pretty hard core. She doesnít complain about the weather, she doesnít complain about anything, really. Her advice to me always was: ďWhen youíre cold, put a jacket on. Stop complaining. When you get too hot, take it off.Ē
Sheís a pragmatic person. Sheís kind of like I am. Sheís on the side of fiscal responsibility. Youíve got to pay your bills. But sheís not against helping people, either.
My father was born in New Brunswick [N.J.]. Was in the second World War. He went to the same boarding school I did, Millbrook. Or I went to the one he did. And then he went to Hamilton, then he got drafted. He was in the Army. Then he was in Johnson & Johnson. He did a lot of different roles in J&J. Then eventually he became president. He worked for his dad. He had cancer, died when he was 50 years old.
Q.How old were you?
A.I was about 25.
Q.Did your dad have other business ventures besides Johnson & Johnson?
A.Well, no. He was in love with the mission of the company. Which is as his father was. As the founder was. The idea of being able to help people every day, through what you do, makes it all that much better and safer and happier. Something like that. It continues. Itís a great privilege to work for this company. People feel that.
Q.Think back to conversations with your father.
A.My dad was sick for a long time. So a lot of the things that I would have done with my father, had he been healthy, I really never did. I never had the opportunity to do them. Also, the relationship that one had with oneís father back in those days is maybe a little bit different than it is today. Because he was on the road a lot. And when he was on the road, back in those days, you were literally on the road. You were driving. They didnít have jets or anything.
Q.Did you ever hear your mother complain?
A.Yeah. She doesnít like overspending. She hates waste. That comes from that Midwestern background. She doesnít want food left over in the suite.
Q.What did she say to you this season?
A.Oh, she really likes Rex. She likes the direction of the team, the way itís going. And she says, Donít be so hard on [quarterback Mark] Sanchez. Heís a young guy. He needs a chance to get his legs under him.
Q.Did you find family with the players, maybe more than you had with your own?
A.I donít know if thatís the right word, paternal. But yeah. You want to create a family. I do have a pretty good relationship with the players.
Q.You bought a team that was second class, played in Giants Stadium, always below the radar.
A.Itís going to be different for the fans. The fans are going to see the difference. Theyíre starting to feel the difference now, particularly the ones who have seen the practice facility.
Weíre still going to have the history weíve had, which weíre proud of, but itís definitely going to be different.
[QUOTE=Gluis011;3539506]I would just like to thank GOD and Woody Johnson for not allowing the DOLANS to buy the JETS.[/QUOTE]
That was the first thing noticed too. Having those douchebags sabotage the Knicks and Rangers is painful enough. Having the Jets stuck in that perennial abyss would be hell on earth.
Great interview. This team is on the up and up, as a fan you can feel it. The owner, the GM, the coach, the new facilities, the new stadium, and the franchise QB are all in place. All that's left is for this group to finally take us to the promised land after 40 years of wandering the desert. And for the first time in my life as a Jets fan, I'm extremely confident that I will see the Jets win a Super Bowl in my lifetime.
I can't imagine how hard it must be for him losing his little girl. The win in Cincinnati probably came at the best possible time. It gave him something to look favorably upon in the worst of times.
I've always been excited about Woody owning the Jets. From the first time I heard him speak back in 2000, when he said, "When you've got a guy like Bills Parcells in your employ, you should everything you can to keep him".
That for me indicated that Woody gets it. He understands. He understands that you need to trust your football team to football people. From that standpoint, he's another great owner the way Leon Hess was.
Now I just hope so much that we get that championship. It's so close right now, I can smell it. I'm sure Woody feels the same. He's proud of the direction of this team and so am I.
Just want to say (just in case you actually read this site?), THANK YOU, WOODY...
Great interview. I like Woody. At first I thought he didn't know **** about football and only wanted to own a team for the status, but over the years he's really proved that he's got the best interests of the team, and the fans, in mind. I like him as an owner.
What is this three-wheeled "kick scooter" he drives to work? I can't even imagine what that is.
I just hope this article will finally put to bed some of the Woody haters who still want to whine that the man should have spent another $70 million of his own money to try & land a stadium deal in Queens that was NEVER going to happen anyway.
Good article NY Times & it's about time you wrote a positive piece on the NY Jets and it's owner. Of course we all know it's a last ditch, bandwagon effort as compared to all the negative "we don't your fans on the precious streets of Manhattan on an NFL Sunday" tomes when Woody was trying to land the WSS deal.