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How Does Rex Ryan Keep His Job?


I find it tough to believe when people say Rex Ryan's job status will not be determined by the Jets' record in 2013. The NFL is a results oriented business. The Jets are likely to sport one of the worst rosters in the league this coming season and at this point are probably the weakest team in the league at the most important position on the field. Winning will be a big challenge. If the Jets fail to win, frustration will boil over with this fan base. Many of the people saying Rex deserves the benefit of the doubt will change their tune once the weight of loss after loss starts coming down.

For his part, Rex will start the season wounded. A growing portion of the fan base has lost faith in him and thinks he should have been fired already. They might have a point. The Jets have been on a clear downward trajectory since 2010. The team has lost 15 of its last 24 games under Ryan, and the head coach seems to be short on concrete answers, turning instead to superficial notions like not naming team captains, not guaranteeing Super Bowls to the press, and hoping the players in the locker room simply believe they can win.

Further compounding Rex's problem is the portion of the media that is out to get him. No less than three prominent New York media members, Mike Francesa, Ian O'Connor, and Manish Mehta are on crusades to get Ryan fired. Whether fair or not, they have been throwing criticism at Ryan for everything he does. You might not view these people as credible, but there is a portion of the fan base whose views are shaped by these folks. The same cookie cutter criticisms Francesa and O'Connor have been throwing at Ryan since the day he was hired now have greater resonance. These criticisms looked desperate when the Jets were winning. Now they look valid with the Jets losing, even though they aren't developed thoughtful deliberation.

Rex Ryan is up against it. If he wins less than six games as appears likely with this roster and a schedule that features the AFC North and NFC South, it will be difficult to justify keeping a coach coming off a third straight non-Playoff year with the team's record getting progressively worse each year. If Ryan wins nine or more games, he will be in line for a contract extension and Coach of the Year consideration. Things get a bit murkier if the Jets win between six and eight games. It would be a tough sell keeping him around since the Jets would have a third straight non-winning season. Depending on how things shake out, though, the team might be inclined to bring him back for 2014 to fight for his job in the final year of the contract. I think all of the circumstances below would need to be satisfied.

The offense has to be credible.

Rex cannot skate if the offense does not produce. He might be a defensive oriented coach, but he is ultimately responsible for the performance of the entire team. He is now on his third offensive coordinator. His hand picked choice to lead the offense last year was a total dud and seemed like a questionable hire at the time. Offense has held the Jets back in the Ryan Era. Only once in four years has the offense finished better than 20th in the league. Even in the year it did, 2010, the Jets lost three games where the opponent scored 10 points or less, costing the team a shot at homefield advantage in the Playoffs. At some point, it does not matter how well the head coach gets the defense to play if he cannot get the offense to work. Rex's tenure is starting to look a lot like that of his mentor, Brian Billick with the Ravens. The defense is always excellent, which leads to some good years. The offense is always a liability, which prevents the team from consistently winning big.

There needs to be accountability for poor play.

Even as the 2012 team was collapsing, Rex refused to bench underperformers. Up until the Jets were officially eliminated, Mark Sanchez, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, and others never saw their playing time diminished. The same thing happened the season before with Eric Smith and Wayne Hunter. This is unfortunately not uncommon. Coaches who have success early in their tenure tend to develop loyalty to the players who helped them have success. When times get tough, these coaches stick to what they know. With the 2012 Jets, this had two unfortunate consequences. It kept underperformers on the field while younger, possibly more talented players languished on the bench. It also sent a message that everybody's job was safe. You need to have a culture of competition so everybody is always working hard, knowing the bench awaits if they do not deliver.

Unforced errors need to be corrected.

When a team continually has players dropping passes, leaving the ball exposed, lining up in the wrong place, messing up substitutions, and missing tackles, that falls on coaching and indicates said coaching is poor. This cannot happen.

The team must play hard at all times.

I understand how loaded it is accusing players of quitting, but watch the end of the games against the 49ers, the Patriots at home, and the Bills on the road and tell me everybody on that field was giving it his all right until the final whistle.

The team cannot be consistently blown out.

You can't even really say the 2012 Jets were close to being a good team since they were totally blown off the field in seven of their ten losses. You need talent to win, but coaching can teach competence and at least close the gap. If you aren't even competitive, you aren't being coached well.

The locker room cannot fall apart.

The last two years, we have seen Jets take shots at teammates through the press both anonymously and in the open. A coach who cannot control his team is an ineffective coach.

The team must finish strong.

The Jets have totally collapsed at the end of the last two seasons. They finished both years with three game losing streaks. They were only competitive in two of those six games, and only one of the six was contested against a team that had a winning record at the end of the year. If you finish the year strong, it looks like you are building on something. If you finish the year in a nosedive, it looks like you have run out of answers.