There's increasing interest among Jets fans in the possible replacement for Rex Ryan, should he end up being fired after this disappointing season. The suggestions have come fast and furious, ranging from assistants in other successful organizations to successful college coaches to retired successful NFL coaches. All such ideas have one thing in common - they almost certainly mean completely blowing up the Jets and starting from scratch. Any new head coach brought in from outside the organization will likely insist on major input into personnel decisions, will want to put his own stamp on every aspect of the program, and will want to draw a clear distinction between the new, presumably winning ways and the old, losing ways. This would likely mean getting rid of most of the current roster, and would likely result in a multi year rebuilding effort from the ground up. There is if course ample justification for just such an approach, and I don't necessarily disagree that this is exactly what is needed. However, there is an alternative approach that might be considered.
There is a possibility, however unpalatable it may be to the GGN faithful, that Rex Ryan becomes the sacrificial lamb at the end of this season, and Mike Tannenbaum survives to mismanage the cap another day. This article starts with the assumption that that is exactly how it plays out. If that happens, what then? The roster will likely not be completely gutted, as any such action would amount to a tacit admission of Tannenbaum's failures as a GM, an admission the organization is likely reluctant to make. There will be a good amount of turnover and contract renegotiation to satisfy salary cap requirements, there will be a new draft class, and there will be trades, but many of the core players on the roster are likely to return. Turnover at safety, linebacker and guard is inevitable. The defensive line and CBs will be the strength of the defense, and the receivers will be led by Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, and possibly Braylon Edwards, Clyde Gates and Chaz Schilens. If that is how it plays out, how should the Jets go about replacing Rex Ryan in a way that maximizes their assets and puts the players in the best position to take advantage of their strengths?
To begin to answer that question, first, my own bias. I love Rex as a defensive coach. I love his defensive approach and philosophies. I loved watching the NY Jets have a kick ass, take no prisoners defense for the first time since the New York Sack Exchange. Rex has proven to be something of a defensive genius, and I loved watching those games where the Jets defense just dominated. After nearly 30 years of watching mediocre to bad defenses with an occasional pretty good one sprinkled in, Rex was a breath of fresh air. But he of course has some serious flaws. He falls in love with his defense, so much so that he completely loses interest in the other side of the ball, a fatal error in a modern NFL team. He also is overly stubborn, seeming to believe so fiercely in his defensive approach that he has been resistant to change, even when the NFL caught up with him and some of his schemes no longer were effective. His deployment of personnel also proved to be a problem, as he seems reluctant to bench long time favorites who have lost effectiveness in favor of young guns who appear to be more talented, and he failed to take advantage of the strengths of the Jets defensive linemen by transitioning to a 43 concept when the talents of the players seemingly demanded it. In addition, the problems of being too much a player's coach, of there being no accountability, of him losing control of the locker room, etc., are well documented.
So, suppose we wish to continue the good to great defensive tradition of Rex, but add in some flexibility, some openness to change, less of a player's coach kind of atmosphere, and a commitment to more of a 43 base? It is possible we need look no farther then our existing coaching staff. Enter Mike Pettine.
Mike Pettine is the current defensive coordinator of the Jets. He is a Rex disciple, and can be counted on to carry on the Rex tradition of good to great defensive teams, although there is no guarantee he will be as good on the defensive side of the ball as Rex has been. But he has also proven to be his own man, and more flexible than Rex. One of his signature accomplishments came in the 2010 playoffs. At the time, the league had caught up with Rex's all out blitz, corners on an island schemes and were beginning to pick the Jets defense apart. Tom Brady and the Pats absolutely destroyed the Jets on Monday Night, exposing the weaknesses in the Jets defensive schemes, and in the playoffs we had the unenviable task of facing Peyton Manning, in Indianapolis, who had wrecked the Jets defense in a similar manner in the prior year's playoffs. If the Jets stuck with the same old Ryan schemes, it looked like they were headed for a major ass whooping. Instead, the Jets completely switched it up, abandoning the all out blitz packages and opting instead for max coverage. It worked brilliantly, both against Manning and again the next week against Brady, making the Jets the only team in NFL history to defeat Manning and Brady in the same playoffs. By most accounts, the change in approach was a result of a suggestion by Pettine, a suggestion Rex went along with only reluctantly.
The point to this little trip down Memory Lane is that in the highest stakes situation the Jets have faced in over a decade, facing the best QBs in the NFL, Pettine had the guts and the wisdom to change things up, to be flexible, to get away from the things that brought the Jets there, because flexibility and change were absolutely what was required at that juncture. Where Rex has proven to be inflexible, Pettine has proven the opposite. That is something the Jets need going forward.
So here's an idea. If Tanny stays and Rex goes, maybe we have an in-house solution to replacing Rex. Maybe Mike Pettine is the perfect guy.
It has been reported that Pettine has already turned down an extension offer from the Jets, so it is possible he has made up his mind that he wants no part of the Jets future. However, a Head Coach position represents a significant step up for Pettine, so while he may be uninterested in returning as a coordinator, he might have a good deal of interest in a Head Coach position.
Lets take a look at his general qualifications. Pettine was an All State quarterback and defensive back at CB West HS. In college he played free safety at Virginia . He led the team in interceptions in 1986, including a school record three in one contest against North Carolina State.
Pettine’s coaching roots trace to his father, Mike Sr., the head coach for 33 years at Central Bucks West HS in Pennsylvania. Pettine played for his father before graduating in 1984, and coached under him for five seasons (1988-92). When Mike Sr. retired as Head Coach after the 1999 season, he was the winningest coach in the history of Pennsylvania High School football with a career record of 326-42-4.
After coaching with his father for five seasons, Pettine served as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh for two seasons (1993-94), where he crossed paths with future Jets great Curtis Martin.
Following his 2 years at Pitt, Pettine was the Head Coach at William Tennent HS in Warminster, PA for two seasons, leading that team to a school-record nine wins in 1996.
From 1997 through 2001 Pettine served as Head Coach for North Penn HS in Towamencin Township, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Pettine’s 1999 team was featured in the ESPN documentary, "The Season." That team went 11-2, with the only two losses to his father’s CB West team, which won the state title in his father’s final season.
Pettine became a coaching assistant for the Baltimore Ravens in 2002, was promoted to Assistant Defensive Line coach in 2003, and to Outside Linebackers Coach in 2005. During his four seasons as the outside linebackers coach, the Ravens defense finished fifth (2005), first (2006), sixth (2007) and second (2008) in the NFL. In 2006, the defense allowed only 201 points and 264 yards per game. As the Ravens outside linebackers coach, Pettine coached Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas and Jarret Johnson, among others, on a defensive unit that was among the stingiest in the NFL.
Let's take a look at the drawbacks to a Pettine regime. First there is the issue of cleaning house. Many Jets fans believe that it is time to completely turn over this organization from top to bottom. The argument is that this Jets team is in total disarray, largely dysfunctional from top to bottom, and in need of a complete regime change. Promoting Pettine would hardly represent a step in that direction. Pettine represents a certain amount of continuity, not a clean break with the past, and for those who think a total housecleaning from top to bottom is in order, Pettine is probably not just what the doctor ordered.
There is also the issue of a continuation of the organization's defense first, last and everything in between philosophy. Pettine is at heart a defensive coach, and there is a risk that like Rex he may end up largely ignoring the offense.
Finally there is the risk of the unknown. Pettine has never served as a head coach above the high school level. As such there is a considerable risk that he proves to be a very good NFL coordinator but a very bad NFL head coach. This risk is very real, and largely impossible to quantify without actually trying him out as a head coach. There is a good argument to be made that some other organization should take that risk, the Jets need a known quantity.
Now let's look at the possible advantages Pettine brings to the position.
Pettine brings with him several qualities that Rex Ryan lacks as a Head Coach. First and foremost, Rex was raised by a coach who was primarily a Defensive Coordinator, and Rex himself had never held anything other than a defensive coaching position prior to becoming an NFL head coach. In contrast, Pettine was an all state QB in high school, and he learned the game from his father, a long time head coach. Pettine himself also has extensive head coaching experience, albeit only at the high school level. While it is unlikely Pettine would bring cutting edge offensive sophistication to the Jets, it is even more unlikely he would show the level of disinterest in the offense that Rex has shown. Pettine is used to the responsibilities of a head coach, sees the game through the eyes of an ex All State QB, and would likely drag the Jets offense into the 21st century. It is impossible to know what kind of offensive philosophy Pettine would embrace, but the odds are it would be considerably more modern, effective and innovative than Rex's approach.
Pettine also brings with him a more flexible approach on defense, as outlined in the discussion of the 2010 playoffs above. Such flexibility addresses another of Rex's weaknesses, the inability to adjust to changing circumstances and a certain stubborn streak in his deployment of personnel. Pettine might well bring an end to such problems for the Jets.
Finally there is the issue of player relations. One of Rex's biggest problems has been his too cozy relationship with players and a certain lack of accountability throughout the organization. By most accounts Pettine would bring an end to that culture. His reputation is as a bit of a hard ass, no excuses guy. Until he actually serves in the position there is no way to know for certain, but it seems a good bet Pettine would bring a tighter ship, greater discipline, and more accountability to a Jets organization sorely lacking in these qualities.
So there you have it, the case for an in house solution to the Jets Head Coach issues. I think Pettine might be a very good candidate. He represents the enticing possibility of continuing the tradition of defensive excellence Rex brought to the Jets while fixing many of the problems Rex inflicted on the organization. For those who think this ship can be righted without completely blowing it up and starting from scratch, Pettine brings a certain continuity which might prove invaluable in keeping this team in contention in the near term.
What do all of you think? Would you support a Mike Pettine promotion to the Head Coach position?