When the story about Rex Ryan's tenure with the Jets is finished, we will probably remember 2011 either as the year he was exposed or the year he learned from some painful mistakes. This was not a good year for Rex.
It certainly did not seem like the locker room was terribly cohesive. Santonio Holmes has earned most of the attention due to his comments calling out teammates during the year, his performance in Miami last Sunday, and the constant media stories that have come out since. For a guy whose biggest strength is supposed to be getting through to his players, Rex Ryan really did not know how to motivate Holmes this year. He thought Holmes would take more ownership if given a leadership role as a captain. That was clearly not the right button to push.
Even worse, Ryan did not address the problem with Holmes. We knew early in the year when Holmes was calling out his teammates to the press there was an issue. We saw it from his stupid taunting penalty against the Eagles made even more galling since the Jets were way behind because Holmes spotted Philly 14 points with a pair of sloppy turnovers. In the end, it was Brian Schottenheimer who had to lay the hammer down on Holmes. There is no way this situation should have gotten to the point where it bubbled over as the team's Playoff hopes were dying. It should have been addressed before then. Incredibly, Ryan did not even know there was a problem.
Ryan gives his players a lot of freedom. He trusts them more than a lot of other coaches. As we saw this year, some will take advantage of the honor system if not held in check. In Rex's first two years, the Jets got a reputation for being out of control in no small part because of the coach's and the team's trash talk. This was fine, though, because it was always directed at the opponent. This year it became directed at each other. That is a big problem. GGN member Buzzy said it perfectly yesterday. A lack of cohesion might not cause a team's downfall, but it tends to make things go badly once a team faces adversity. Instead of fighting together to battle through the problems, a team that has no cohesion will start pointing fingers.
Mistakes happen. Nobody is perfect. The real question is whether people are willing to ask the hard questions and correct the mistakes. Ryan admitted he did not handle the team well in his Monday press conference, but it does not seem like he really is ready to confront the problems. He attributed the problems with Holmes being a captain not to his own misjudgment of thinking he could motivate his player. He said the issue itself was having captains in the first place. He also indicated that having training camp in Cortland instead of Florham Park will magically make all of the chemistry issues go away. This does not sound promising.
It does not seem like Rex really knows how to get through to the team. Monday he apparently did his best to instill in his players the need for greater cohesion. He was so effective that one veteran told the media anonymously that the team had to dump Santonio Holmes, and the rookie third string quarterback went on the radio to air some dirty laundry in the locker room.
This unfortunately speaks to a culture surrounding the team where winning the game sometimes takes a back seat to doing people favors. Think back to Week 2 when Mark Sanchez got his clock cleaned in garbage time against the Jaguars. The Jets almost got their quarterback needlessly hurt on a meaningless play because the team was trying to get Plaxico Burress a touchdown. He did not have a catch to that point. Eric Smith took a starting job this year for reasons nobody can seem to explain. Forget about his physical limitations in coverage. He was a coaches' favorite so he never had to sit even when he made mental error after mental error. Kerry Rhodes was benched for less than some of the dumb mistakes Smith made this year.
It is part of why this whole Brian Schottenheimer situation is so frustrating. If the Jets are indeed just keeping him on to try and help him get the Jaguars job, it is another example of a lack of accountability and a special favor being done at the expense of what is best for the team.
Rex's relationship with Schottenheimer deserves closer examination as well. Rex is the head coach of the football team. It rings hollow when he acts astounded when the team throws it 67 times like the Jets did against the Giants. Did Schottenheimer not present him with a game plan? Could the head coach have not stepped in once it was obvious the Jets could pound the ball at will but were having problems throwing it? Is it not telling that the last two years have had the same theme? Before the season, we hear all kinds of talk about how the Jets are going to become a passing team, and Mark Sanchez is going to take on more of the load. Then when things are not working, Rex acts shocked the team has gotten away from its "roots" and calls for a return to ground and pound.
Rex was widely praised for the team's success his first two years. There are things he does very well, particularly when it comes to player development and scheme on defense. Questioning his weaknesses does not imply a lack of appreciation for these things. There are issues that need correction, however. Rex really needs to learn. The first is that Brian Schottenheimer needs to be shown the door. If Rex is too blind to see this significant problem, I don't think he is going to ever be able to correct the other issues on the team. He can be himself. He can talk all he wants. He needs to improve in some significant areas, though, if he is ever going to back up one of his guarantees.