If you want one thing Bill Parcells did arguably better than any coach in NFL history, it was building a coaching staff. He surrounded himself with incredibly talented assistants every step of the way. The head coach can only do so much. He has to delegate authority. It is best to have good people handling the little things.
Look at the names he had in his four stops as a head coach. You have Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Tony Sparano, Todd Haley, Eric Mangini, Al Groh, and Sean Payton. These guys all of these guys eventually became head coaches either in the NFL or for a major college program. They had varying degrees of success. Even the guys who failed as head coaches got their chance in the first place for a single reason, though. They were fantastic assistants.
More after the jump.
The way two Parcells assistants handled assistant coach issues largely define their respective tenures as head coaches. There are a lot of parallels between Sean Payton and Rex Ryan. They both are considered gurus on their side of the ball. They are both more hands on for that side than the average head coach. They are largely coordinator/head coach types. Both had surprising early success that included trips to a conference title game.
Payton is an offensive coach. His second and third years in New Orleans, the team underachieved because of its defense. Payton had a 4th and a top ranked offense but missed the Playoffs two straight years because of a defense that ranked 26th and 23rd.
Payton knew he needed to make a change. He fired defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs. While there were other personnel moves, the biggest might have been his courtship of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator.
Williams was a proven guy Payton knew he could trust to run the show. It is not true of every head coach, but Payton realized his ability to focus on his offense was part of what made him a good head coach. He needed somebody he could trust to give autonomy to running the defense. Williams had a track record of success as a defensive coordinator in Buffalo and was one year removed from a stint in Washington where he had three top ten defenses in four years. Payton took a paycut and used the money to entice Williams to join the Saints. Two years later, an improved Saints defense produced a Super Bowl winner and a 11 win season.
At the other end of the spectrum, Eric Mangini's run with the Jets got off to a promising start but was derailed in no small part because of his coordinators, particularly the defensive coordinator. Heading into the 2008 season, Mangini made an attempt to lure Rob Ryan to New York to replace Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator. Sutton had not done well in his two seasons with the team. In both preceding years, Mangini reportedly felt the need to get more involved with the defense during the season because things went so poorly. For some reason, Mangini decided his only two options were to either land Ryan or stick with what was not working. When Ryan proved unattainable, Mangini stuck by Sutton, whose defense failed to register a sack in a critical Week 15 game at Seattle despite the entire Seahawks starting offensive line being on injured reserve at that point.
Rex Ryan seems to be approaching a similar crossroads in his career. Like Payton, much of his value is generated from his work on one side of the ball. I have heard some say he should focus on the entire team, but he is one of the most brilliant defensive minds in the game. I want as much of his focus on the defense as possible.
The biggest problem on the team is on the offensive side of the ball. Brian Schottenheimer is simply not getting the job done. He has not been getting the job done for a long time. It is impossible to argue with merit that Mark Sanchez has looked like a total bust with the Jets. Total busts do not produce 95 passer ratings in 6 Playoff games. They do not lead 5 game winning drives in one season. Still, it is difficult to argue that Sanchez has developed as well as he should have. Should he not be further along? Should the offense not be further along with all the talent it has?
It is not like the offense was humming before Sanchez got to New York. He is the fourth different starting quarterback Schottenheimer has had with the Jets. One of the others was Chad Pennington, a very good player. Another was Brett Favre, who posted elite numbers both the year before and the year after he was coached by Schottenheimer. In five previous seasons, he has failed to produce even a top fifteen offense.
Sometimes we as fans can go overboard with emotion. I asked a friend who is a Rams fan his thoughts about Sunday's game. As a dispassionate observer, he gave me pretty much the same report I hear from Jets fans. He did not understand the play calling. He thought the Jets should have attacked down the field more. He did not understand why they did not use Plaxico Burress' size more. He saw some routes where it looked like every receiver was running four yards. There were no adjustments. To play Devil's Advocate, I asked him about Mark Sanchez. This friend said he thought it was tough to blame the quarterback given the play calling.
There seem to be fundamental issues with Schottenheimer's approach. There are times where it feels like there is no rhyme or reason to the way he does things. A good coach looks at his talent, determines his strengths, and figures out how to build on them. When he arrived in New York in 2009, Rex Ryan decided he was going to install an attacking defense. He was going to blitz like crazy, force you to figure out his exotic looks. You were probably going to need to leave in extra blockers, taking away receivers. Of the remaining receivers, the Jets were going to use Darrelle Revis to take away the best. There is no such obvious philosophy with the Jets.
It feels like the Jets are running a different offense every week. One week, they are trying to get to the edge with bootlegs, moving pockets, and outside runs. Another week they are passing from the pocket. Another week they are a run first team.
Let us talk about adjustments too. How many games in the past two years have defenses been jumping everything short without the Jets trying to make them pay by having a receiver run a double move?
How about making good use of his talent? You sign Plaxico Burress, who is a big target great at winning balls in the air down the field. How frequently have the Jets tried to exploit this? How many weeks is Dustin Keller not featured in the passing game even though he is too big for safeties and too fast for linebackers to cover?
We are just at the tip of the iceberg here. Schottenheimer does not scheme to his strengths. There are times it does not even appear he knows what his strengths are like on the end arounds to his slowest receiver, Jerricho Cotchery, last year. We get a lot of subtle, useless tweaks like all the times Santonio Holmes faked an end around on a handoff last week. Sometimes an offense fails when there is a logical flow. Schottenheimer certainly has his moments where he has been effective in the areas I have mentioned above. They have come infrequently, though. Even more disturbing, it is frequently difficult to see how Schottenheimer gets from point A to point B in his thought process designing the offense. One week Mark Sanchez has to call every play based on what he sees at the line. Later in the season, he cannot even change a play if he notices something.
Rex Ryan has built up a lot of good will among Jets fans. Even Mike Francesa admitted earlier this week that Ryan has the Jets ahead of schedule early in his tenure. There will always be some knee jerk reactionaries, but I think most Jets fans will give him a pass if this one season ends in disappointment. That is a conditional pass, though. He must recognize the problems on offense and correct them. Some say his public support of Schottenheimer indicates he is blind. I disagree. He has to express confidence. Unless he is going to fire Schotty today, anything less than a full throated endorsement will create a major story. Like Mangini, he has felt forced for a third time in three year to become more active in dictating what he wants from his offense. That is telling. If Brian Schottenheimer is the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets Week 1 in the 2012 season, Rex will for the first time start to lose a large chunk of the fan base.
There is room to make a change in season. I am usually against in season coaching changes unless at least one of three conditions exist. The first is the players have totally lost faith in the coach. The second is if somebody on the staff could conceivably take over and right the ship. The third is if a potential long term replacment is on the staff and could benefit from a tryout with an interim tag. At this point, one could argue all three conditions exist for the Jets. The wide receiver/Derrick Mason episode suggests problems. There are no less than two proven, successful NFL offensive coordinators employed by the Jets, Tom Moore and Bill Callahan. Moore might not want to give up a cushy consulting job for the grind of game planning, but Callahan will be coaching for a long time.
No matter what happens, the Jets need to reassess where they are at the end of this season. Schottenheimer's contract is up. Ownership seemed to strongly suggest Ryan keep him on when Rex was hired. He did so. There are times to submit to public opinion and times to shape it. Woody Johnson has a lot of faith in Rex Ryan. If Rex thinks a change needs to be made, Woody will listen. If Rex does not, a lot of fans will start to question whether he really has the judgment it takes to take the team all the way.
Ryan's focus on defense means his offensive coordinator will have a lot of autonomy. The Jets need a proven guy with a track record of success for the job he knows will be able to handle it. This is not a spot for on the job training. Ryan seeing it as necessary to get more involved three straight years indicates Schotty is not that guy. The most important move over the next few months the team will make will be at this position, not right tackle or safety. If Ryan finds the right guy like Payton did, the sky is the limit. If he does not properly address the problem like Mangini, he might well eventually meet a similar fate.