Rumor has it that GM John Idzik has asked HC Rex Ryan to make changes on the defensive staff. We don't know the politics behind that thought, as well as how each assistant coached performed their day-to-day duties. We can only go by what we can see on the surface. Which coaches on the current staff can we afford to let go? Below is the current defensive staff.
Defensive Coordinator - Dennis Thurman
DT goes a long way back with Rex Ryan. He was Rex's DB Coach with the Baltimore Ravens, as well as the Jets prior to his promotion. Dennis, Rex and former Jets DC Mike Pettine made an agreement in their days together at Baltimore that if and when one of them ever moved on to a higher position, he would hire the other two. DT has worked with players like Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
Dennis Thurman is familiar with the system, but Ryan has pretty much been in charge of the defense himself this year. You can make the argument that you don't really need a defensive coordinator under this condition, but you also don't want to hire someone new that can potentially cause problems.
Defensive Line - Karl Dunbar
Karl Dunbar coached the Williams Wall with the Minnesota Vikings. He has turned UDFA Damon Harrison into a starting nose tackle and has been integral in the development of Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis. Why wouldn't you want him back? I certainly hope it's not simply about money. Coach Karl is no longer under contract, so hopefully both sides can come to an agreement. I thought Rex Ryan addressed a big mistake with the Mark Carrier hire and replacing him with a bona fide defensive line coach. Right now, who is out there that is as good as or better than Dunbar who is also available?
Linebackers - Brian Vangorder
Brian VanGorder had worked under Jack Del Rio with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Mike Smith with the Atlanta Falcons, both of whom were previous LB coaches in Baltimore. Did Gang Green's linebackers improve this year? Or did the Sons of Anarchy help them do their jobs? Did they simply get younger with Bart Scott retiring? Should Scott come back and coach Demario and David?
It's also possible that Vangorder is the one they had wanted to go all along. It's pure speculation of course, but maybe the Notre Dame defensive coordinator position was a lucky coincidence. Or not. Maybe Brian was forced to reach out to Notre Dame HC Brian Kelly, with whom he has previously worked in college. Back in the '80s they could throw a football a quarter mile.
Defensive Backs - Tim McDonald
The secondary was the weak link in his first year coaching the unit. Antonio Cromartie was nowhere near Pro Bowl caliber, although he was battling through some injuries. Dee Milliner was up and down as a rookie, mostly down early in the season. However, the youngsters Darrin Walls, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Antonio Allen showed flashes of potential. From my perspective, I don't see enough to fire him, unless in a situation where Thurman is demoted back to his old position.
Assistant Defensive Backs - Brian Smith
Brian Smith has been a defensive assistant for the team, starting out as Quality Control Coach in 2007. He has been one of the unheralded guys spending long hours doing a lot of grunt work. He had been LB Coach at the University of Massachusetts, which is the alma matter of former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. Again, this is pure speculation, and apologies to B-Smitty, but could there be some hard feelings as there have been two outside hires for positions where the team could have promoted from within (LBs, DBs)?
Assistant Defensive Line / Linebackers - Jeff Weeks
Jeff Weeks' negatives are well documented in the recent book "Collision Low Crossers". Weeks grew real close to Rex and Rob Ryan during their college days in Oklahoma. Initially, he was hired to be OLB Coach in 2009. According to the book, Ryan seemed to do most of Jeff's work, such as filling out grade sheets for players. This seemed to lead to a feeling of resentment by other assistants, especially when former Ravens LB Mike Smith was hired as his assistant in 2011 and impressed everyone despite being paid significantly less.
Last year, at the urging of Pettine, Rex finally let him go. In 2013, with Pettine moving on to the Buffalo Bills, Ryan brought back his old friend on board. Did Weeks change his ways after his firing? Who knows? If Mike Smith got credit for Aaron Maybin's good games, who gets the credit for Calvin Pace's 10 sacks this year?
Who Stays and Who Goes?
My apologies for all the speculation, but that is all that we have right now. However, on the surface, based on the jobs their players have done on the field in 2013, which of these defensive assistants do we need to keep, and which can we afford to lose? Additionally, who is out there who can take their place?