When Rex Ryan was hired as the New York Jets' head coach in 2009, he was proclaimed as the guy who would take the Jets to the next level. In his first two seasons with the Jets, Ryan did that and more, by leading the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship Games. His players loved playing for him and Jets fans loved listening to him. He had turned the Jets into the must-see football team in New York.
Fast-forward to today. The Jets lost this past Monday to the Tennessee Titans, which ensured that they will not be in the playoffs for the second year in a row. Quarterback Mark Sanchez lost his starting job after turning the ball over five times that game. The Jets lost yesterday to the San Diego Chargers, as replacement quarterback Greg McElroy was sacked 11 times. A season in which the Jets were a national laughing stock now has hit rock bottom.
Fans are calling for owner Woody Johnson to blow up the Jets, starting with three people: Ryan, Sanchez and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. However, Ryan should not be fired, because he's proven that he is a very good head coach and that he deserves a second chance.
Listen, no head coach should be punished by having Sanchez as his starting quarterback for four years. However, Ryan made the most of it by actually making it to the playoffs in two of those years. He gave Sanchez confidence in his early years, and gave him every chance to succeed. Ryan took the pressure off Sanchez when he struggled by making himself a target for the media. He consistently supported his quarterback, until it was apparent that Sanchez had lost all of his confidence.
But is it Ryan's fault that Sanchez is struggling so mightily this year? It's not his fault that Tannenbaum made the ill-advised trade for Tebow that ruined Sanchez's psyche. It's not his fault that Tannenbaum hired Tony Sparano, a head-scratching choice to begin with, to run the Jets offense into the ground. It's not his fault that the only competent receiver on the Jets, Santonio Holmes, is on injured reserve.
While Ryan's defense hasn't been elite this year, it's still Top 10 in the NFL in yards allowed per game. His second-ranked pass defense has been without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis for most of the season. Ryan has developed two promising young players on the defense, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and outside linebacker Quinton Coples. He's gotten outstanding play from other members of the defense as well, even if some of them are a few years past their prime.
Ryan has been killed by quarterback play and a general lack of depth, which is because of relatively poor usage of draft picks by Tannenbaum. Ever since Rex was hired, Tannenbaum has not drafted one Pro Bowl player and has selected drafted wunderkinds such as Sanchez, Vlad Ducasse, Joe McKnight (picked one spot before Aaron Hernandez and seven spots before Geno Atkins) and John Conner (a fullback in the fifth round!).
Let's not forget mega-bust Vernon Gholston the year before in 2008 or that Tannenbaum traded fourth- and sixth-round picks for Tim Tebow. With Tannenbaum having a history of trading draft picks for players (Tebow, Holmes, Antonio Cromartie), the Jets recently have had fewer draft selections than most teams. With Tannenbaum whiffing on most of those picks, he's created a team with very little talent.
With all of these injuries and this quarterback situation on a roster that is below average in talent to begin with, the fact that Rex Ryan's team had survived in the playoff race for this long is nothing short of a miracle. Ryan has proven before that he can take this team to the playoffs, and have them compete with the best teams in the NFL. Tannenbaum should be fired for his mistakes over the last couple of years; Ryan shouldn't have to pay for them. The Jets should give Rex at least one more year to prove that he can turn this team around after this abysmal season.