Conor Orr: With history of personnel work and salary cap savvy, Jets hope John Idzik
With history of personnel work and salary cap savvy, Jets hope John Idzik can bring back winning ways
Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik remembers being 24 years old, sandwiched inside a cubicle at the Buccaneers’ facility vying for some elbowroom with his partner, John Idzik.
In 1995, they were both pro personnel assistants buried in paperwork, scanning film and writing up dossiers on opponents or prospective free agents.
The Buccaneers were still four years away from a stretch where the team made the playoffs four straight times, culminating with a Super Bowl win after the 2002 season, but Dominik already saw the makings of a strong football mind.
When it was time for the franchise to make the push, he wasn’t surprised they tapped Idzik to make all the numbers work after helping put them all in place. Without each one, the Super Bowl may not have been possible.
"He had to find a way to fit Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Ronde Barber," Dominik said. "I mean, that was a lot of work."
Although Idzik began to drift more toward the numbers, he never forgot his time stuffed in the bay of assistants with Dominik. He would still make time to watch film.
"John is meticulous," Dominik said. "He’s well versed and well rounded, that’s the most important thing."
On Friday, the Jets named Idzik their next general manager, the fourth in the last 13 years and the third in the Woody Johnson era.
The team hopes his expertise in salary cap planning and contract negotiations will bail them out of their most immediate problem — a budget situation so dreary that some GM candidates were scared away.
But it’s a football background they will need just as much, one that will help replace an aging core on defense, solve a quarterback controversy on offense and stockpile a bare bones roster worn thin behind a cast of stars.
After sitting through 10 candidate interviews over two weeks, the Jets feel they have the right mix in Idzik, whose last job was vice president of football administration for the Seahawks.
"John is a well-respected, lifelong football man who I believe will be a strong addition to the Jets organization," said Seahawks general manager John Schneider in an e-mail. "While he will be missed by the Seahawks organization, we wish him and his family all the best with this great opportunity."
Ivy league intensity
Buddy Teevens, the head coach at Idzik’s alma mater Dartmouth was a senior quarterback for the Big Green when Idzik was a freshman.
It was a group of prospective engineers, lawyers and doctors mostly, but Teevens remembers one player staying late to perfect the break points on his routes; one who was comfortable coming over to introduce himself to the varsity players and talk football after practice.
"John is meticulous. He’s well versed and well rounded, that’s the most important thing."
"Tireless worker," Teevens said of Idzik. "I saw that when he was a player.
He was tenacious; it was very important to him. He had the last-guy-to-leave-the-field mentality."
In following Idzik’s career since his days in college, Teevens can trace the tenacious attitude from one stop to the next: After 11 years in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. After three years with the Cardinals, the foundation was there for a Super Bowl run one year after he left.
After four seasons in Seattle, the team was within a field goal of the conference championship. Not one of the teams had a winning record when Idzik arrived.
"He’s not afraid to make decisions and his preparation. It goes back 30 years to his field preparation," Teevens said. "I heard this from guys around the league."
Through the years the two have maintained contact, mostly through personalized Christmas cards Idzik insists on sending every year. There’s always a line included about a recruit he has coming this year, or a game they won from the year before.
When Teevens gives him a call out of the blue, he’ll ask about random Ivy League prospects that play high school near Idzik’s office. Even then, strung out by the responsibilities, he has a dossier prepared for Teevens more valuable than rival high school coaches.
"I’ll say, ‘Hey, do you know about so and so?’ Like the Catholic league down in Tampa Bay or the suburbs in Arizona. And because I know him I guess I’m not surprised, but it could be surprising to some, that he’s already scoured the papers and he knows," Teevens said. "He has the capacity to grasp a ton of information."
On Jan. 9, five days after the Jets were eligible to begin contacting GM candidates, arrangements were made for Idzik to meet up with Jets owner Woody Johnson, team president Neil Glatt, search firm representative Jed Hughes and Johnson Company president Ira Akselrad.
Two days later, they met and spoke about Idzik’s plan to turn the Jets around.
On the 13th, the Seahawks team Idzik helped build up from a 4-12 divisional afterthought stormed back from a 20-point halftime deficit to take the lead over the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter. They would lose on a late field goal.
The Seattle roster, stockpiled with strong acquisitions like Marshawn Lynch (trade for a fourth-round pick), and valuable contributors found in the draft like safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round), center Max Unger (second round), cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round) quarterback Russell Wilson (third round), was a blueprint the Jets can follow — they won’t have room for high-profile free agents and can only do so much with the No. 9 pick in the NFL Draft this year.
That’s why they chose Idzik, in hopes that they’d get the candidate to continue the success of his last three stops; the one with an eye on the budget and the other one back in the crowded bay of personnel assistants.
"It was only a matter of time," Dominik said. "I’m not surprised they chose him at all."