Although it seems that the Jets' coaching search may be coming to a head, could there be a last minute surprise in the mix bringing an old friend and current nemesis back?
As the Jets ended their once-promising season with a mere whimper, owner Woody Johnson wasted no time in sending head coach Eric Mangini to the unemployment line. Johnson fired Mangini just hours following the season-ending loss to the Dolphins and immediately started the clock on his fourth head coaching search since purchasing the franchise in January 2000.
For a franchise that just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its only Super Bowl triumph, much remains at stake for Johnson. His track record in selecting head coaches has been spotty. Al Groh (2000), Herman Edwards (2001-2005), and Mangini (2006-2008) all were first-time head coaches and only mustered a 71-73 combined record, including a 2-4 mark in the playoffs.
As the Jets' recent collapse piled onto a decade of mediocrity, it was no surprise to see Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum begin their search by reaching out to the candidate with the deepest resume, Bill Cowher. In 15 seasons as head coach of the Steelers, Cowher won 149 games and led the franchise to a victory in Super Bowl XL.
However, an interview between Cowher and the Jets never materialized and the Jets have since met with eight candidates for their vacant coaching position.
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was the presumed favorite following his meeting with Tannenbaum during the NFL wild-card weekend, but he has yet to interview with Johnson. He continues to draw interest from the Lions and Rams for their coaching openings and the battle for his services is likely to heat up with the Giants' season now over. Spagnuolo reportedly will meet with the Rams for a second interview tomorrow and the Kansas City Star reported yesterday that he could become a candidate with the Chiefs if newly-hired general manager Scott Pioli chooses to fire Herman Edwards.
However, as the search drags on for Mangini's replacement, the indications grow stronger that the Jets are leaning toward Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Newsday reported today that Ryan has emerged as a "slight favorite" with the Jets after interviewing with the team Sunday, but no decisions have been finalized.
Under Ryan, the Ravens' 3-4 defense ranked second in the league in average yards allowed (261.1 yards/game)and has helped carry the franchise to within one win of a berth in the Super Bowl. Baltimore recorded a league-leading 26 interceptions and also totaled 34 sacks (11th in NFL). Ryan's sucess within the 3-4 defense will certainly be a highlighting factor in the Jets' decision, given that the team invested heavily last season in players to fit the scheme.
If the Jets ultimately select Ryan, league rules prohibit them from finalizing terms of a contract until Baltimore's season is complete.
Ryan also interviewed with the Rams Sunday, but he is "not believed to be as high on St. Louis' list of preferred candidates," Newsday reported.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also remains in consideration for the Jets' opening. Despite quarterback Brett Favre's late-season struggles, the Jets' 405 points scored marked the third-highest point total in team history (1968-419, 1998-416). Schottenheimer interviewed with the Ravens last season concerning their head coaching vacancy, and he was a finalist for the Dolphins' job two seasons ago. If Ryan is named Mangini's replacement, Schottenheimer's status remains uncertain. The Jets obviously like Schottenheimer and would hope to keep him.
Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan, Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm, Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski have all interviewed for the Jets' coaching vacancy but are considered long shots.
Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh interviewed with the Jets Thursday, but he officially took himself out of the running yesterday. On the university's website, Harbaugh released a statement which said, "In response to persistent reports speculating my interest in other coaching positions, I would like to unequivocally state that I am 100 percent committed to Stanford and I look forward to leading this football program for years to come."
Harbaugh was not considered as a serious candidate and he will likely sign an extension with Stanford shortly.
One long shot rumor that has been circulating is the return of Bill Parcells to the Jets. This is a long shot, but so was the talk of acquiring Brett Favre last summer and we know how that turned out.
The completion of the sale of the Dolphins from owner Wayne Huizenga to real estate billionare Stephen Ross could be completed as early as next week and everyone is well aware of the 25 year freindship that Ross has with former Chiefs general manager Carl Petersen. Both have said that a future together is pure speculation, but remember the out clause that Parcells has when the sale is completed. It's been confirmed that the Tuna can leave the Dolphins and take the remaining $9 million left on his contract without penalty and go wherever he wants. He's said he's very comfortable in Miami, but if he feels Ross is not totally on board with him then you could see him take the money and run.
Parcells also left his first tenure with the Jets on very good terms with owner Woody Johnson and with the Johnson badly needing to sell PSL's in a bad economy, who's a better salesman than Tuna?
Again, this is all speculation, but crazier things have happened. Stay tuned.
Coles Expected to Lobby for New Deal
Last offseason wide receiver Laveranues Coles approached Jets management about signing an extension. In March, the Jets instead guaranteed the remaining two years on his contract worth $11 million. Coles recorded 70 catches, 850 yards and seven touchdowns this season while battling a nagging thigh injury and he is again expected to lobby for a long-term contract. The Jets remain entrenched in their coaching search and likely save personnel decisions until Mangini's replacement is named, but Coles' situation will be monitored closely.
Quinn Bolts for Seattle
With the Jets' coaching situation in flux, defensive line coach Dan Quinn was hired by the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. Quinn will coach the Seahawks' defensive line and will also assume the role of assistant head coach. The eighth-year coach joined the Jets staff prior to the 2007 season.
Personnel Decisions to be Made
Brett Favre is not the only player who is unsure of his future with the Jets. Linebacker Eric Barton and kickers Jay Feely and Mike Nugent all head into this offseason as unrestricted free agents. Barton led the team with 119 tackles, but the Jets may head in a different direction. Feely nailed 24 of his 28 field goal attempts last season and it would not be surprising to see him unseat Nugent for good.
The team's cap situation will depend significantly on Favre, who is owed $13 million next season. If Favre does not return, the team can save that money.
The official start of the free agency period is Feb. 27.