By Adam Schein
The New York Jets made former general manager Mike Tannenbaum the fall guy for their bumbling, grotesque, laughable 6-10 season of underachievement. They fired Tannenbaum on "Black Monday" via a statement from owner Woody Johnson, which included the explanation that coach Rex Ryan would return because of "the passion, the talent and the drive to successfully lead our team" that Ryan possesses.
Apparently, Johnson didn't watch the Jets this season, or he doesn't understand how his football operations worked.
In a year that included the Tim Tebow insanity, Mark Sanchez's gruesome underachievement, and the expression "butt fumble" becoming forever a part of the football lexicon, Monday's decision to keep Ryan and fire Tannenbaum was the Jets' worst moment of 2012.
Hey -- happy New Year.
The Jets had two choices: Take a deep breath and retain both Ryan and Tannenbaum -- a duo that won more games than they lost in their four years together -- or fire both. The one thing they shouldn't have done was attack the issue piecemeal.
The decision was very simple, but the Jets messed it up in "butt fumble" fashion.
You can make the case that Tannenbaum deserved to lose his job because of the extension given to Sanchez last offseason, guaranteeing the quarterback more than $8 million for 2013. It was basically money to pump up the confidence-deficient signal-caller coming off a shaky 2011. One could also cite other bad player contracts in making a case against Tannenbaum.
But Ryan and Tannenbaum should've been attached at the hip.
Ryan worked hand-in-hand with Tannenbaum on shaping the Jets. He had more power than most head coaches.
Ryan was convinced Sanchez had the talent and personality (which is laughable to think now, after Sanchez's postgame press conferences this year) to handle New York and thrive. He wanted to draft Sanchez. He pushed for Tannenbaum to give him that contract after speculation arose that the Jets wanted Peyton Manning.
Ryan wanted Tebow. He wanted to run the ball and get back to "ground and pound," and he envisioned Tebow as a threat in the red zone, in short-yardage situations and in the Wildcat.
Remember the toxic Jets locker room in 2011 and all the finger pointing that was part of that season's collapse? Ryan thought Tebow could help the locker room. That's a fact.
Yes, Tannenbaum was on board with the trade. But Ryan, who shares an agent with Tebow, drove the bus.
Tannenbaum wanted to sign Chad Henne to be Sanchez's backup. The Jets did, in fact, sign Drew Stanton before the Tebow trade. After the Tebow trade, Tannenbaum did right by Stanton, dealing him to the Indianapolis Colts. As it turned out, Stanton would've been the best quarterback on the Jets' roster this year.
Ryan hand-picked Tony Sparano as his offensive coordinator to run the ball. As Ryan told me, "I wanted to find the mirror image of me." It was an unmitigated disaster. The Jets' offensive line was the worst it had been in years. Ryan wanted Dave DeGuglielmo as his line coach. Ryan told me on SiriusXM this summer that he knew DeGuglielmo was his guy when he saw him kick over a garbage can, showing fight. Garbage, as it turned out, was the ideal metaphor.
It's easy to say that Tannenbaum put together a poor roster, and it's a valid criticism. However, I'd argue that the bigger issue was giving Ryan so much say, listening to him when he claimed he could coach up the likes of Aaron Maybin and Wayne Hunter and turn them into signature players.
In a related story, both Maybin and Hunter are now ex-Jets.
The collaboration between Ryan and Tannenbaum sometimes worked, as it did when it came to Muhammad Wilkerson, Antonio Cromartie or LaRon Landry. But don't get confused. These are Rex's Jets, from Chaz Schilens to Bart Scott. Ryan told me that, when Tannenbaum told him Santonio Holmes was available via trade, he ran down to Tannenbaum's office faster than he ever had in his life.
Nobody had a worse 2012 for the Jets than Rex.
Sparano lost faith in Tebow early on because of bad practice and Tebow's weight gain. Last summer, Tebow was behind both Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn on the Denver Broncos' depth chart before leading the team to the playoffs. If you get in bed with Tebow, you don't judge on practice.
Ryan is a sub-par in-game coach. His usage of timeouts and challenges is laughable.
He consistently had the wrong quarterbacks active down the stretch. He went into the Thanksgiving game against the New England Patriots with Tebow as the backup quarterback, even though Tebow was hurt. After Greg McElroy saved the Jets in the offensively challenged matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, Ryan had him inactive for the next two weeks. That included the ill-fated Week 15 loss to the Tennessee Titans, during which Mark Sanchez turned the ball over five times. Would have been nice for Jets fans if Ryan had been able to go to McElroy in that one.
Ryan coaches his team like a glorified defensive coordinator.
He looks especially bad when one considers how the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills closed out their seasons. Like the Jets, the Chargers and Bills were merely playing out the string over the final few weeks, but unlike the Jets, the Chargers and the Bills kept fighting. In Week 16, San Diego had to travel to the East Coast to face the Jets for an early start; the Bolts easily could have quit. Instead, they sacked McElroy 11 times in a 27-17 win. However, both the Chargers and Bills fired head coaches Norv Turner and Chan Gailey, respectively.
Ryan, meanwhile, got to keep his job, even though he can't coach, manage, or properly evaluate players or coaches.
What legit general manager candidate would take this job and inherit Rex?
Think about the dynamic for next season. The Jets aren't close to competing with the New England Patriots and winning the AFC East. This offseason calls for the Jets to be re-shaped while the cap ramifications of Tannenbaum's bad deals are handled. The new GM should want to stockpile talent and build the team smartly. Ryan, on the other hand, will be coaching for his job; he'll favor band-aid-type solutions, even though surgery is what the Jets need.
Historically, things don't work out when the new brass keeps the old coach. Look at Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery and former coach Lovie Smith. Analyze what happened when Mike Holmgren joined the Cleveland Browns without jettisoning Eric Mangini. Such moves simply delay the inevitable.
The Jets either needed to keep both Mike and Rex, or they needed to start over.
Keeping Ryan for another year with a new GM just ensures more wackiness -- and that I'll be penning a "Rex Ryan has been fired" column 365 days from now.
Woody Johnson should really reconsider.
I feel terrible for the diehard, long-suffering Jets fan, who deserved a better and clearer direction for the team to go.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.