We have spent time this week talking about the business side of the team and Woody Johnson's performance as an owner. This seems like as good of a time as any to grade Woody's tenure with the team. I believe there are a number of key aspects to being a good owner. Below I will look at them to see how Woody stacks up.
Does he give players the resources they need?
In this area, Woody Johnson might have had a bigger positive impact on his team than any owner in the NFL. When he bought the Jets, they playing their home games in a stadium bearing their crosstown rival's name and paying rent to that rival. Their practice facilities were those of a Division I-AA football team, Hofstra University. Now the Jets play their home games in a state of the art stadium they co-own with the Giants and have their own state of the art team facilities.
When players consider where they want to sign, money is usually the first consideration. There can be others, though, if the money is close. They want a team where they will have access to the best facilities to maximize their training. They want a quality medical staff. By most accounts, the Jets have one. They also want a team that will stand with them in tough times. Thinking back to when the Jets advanced Antonio Cromartie money for back child support payments and other kind gestures, it seems like the Jets do that. This helped the Jets keep Cromartie despite not making the highest bid when Cro was a free agent.
Does he spend to put a winner on the field?
There are few things worse for a fan than having an owner who is so focused on the bottom line that he refuses to go out and get that player who could make a huge difference. While you could argue the Jets have been foolish for some of their big ticket purchases at times in Woody's tenure, the owner has opened his wallet time and again and given out big money to the likes of Chad Pennington, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Alan Faneca, and others to try and make the Jets a big winner. The Jets typically do spend to the cap.
The only thing that makes Woody lose points slightly is he does not seem to be as willing to spend on his coaching staff or front office. He has made three general manager hires and three head coaching hires. All were first-timers on the job. These people predictably cost less than established figures. It is tough to dock him too much since it could easily be argued a first-time choice was the best choice at the time. The bizarre departure of Brian Schottenheimer, however, felt like an ownership move. The Jets waited a week to fire Schottenheimer after the 2011 season because they were hoping the Jaguars would hire him as head coach and free the Jets from paying a severance package. There does seem to be a something of a disconnect between Woody's willingness to spend on players and unwillingness to spend elsewhere.
Is the process for making big decisions sound?
In the NFL, you get graded for results. That is entirely fair. Good results are usually residue of a good process. It is inevitable, however, that sometimes one can do everything right and still not get the desired result. A consistently sound thought process will eventually turn up good results.
As the owner, Woody's most important job is hiring the key players who run the team. What has the process looked like? It has seemed sound. The most recent important hire was general manager John Idzik. Nobody has any idea whether Idzik will pan out, but the process to get him was very good. Woody was deliberate. He knew his football knowledge and contacts were not sufficient to make a call so he hired an outside firm with experience running an NFL general manager search. The Jets interviewed over ten candidates and found somebody who was very qualified yet not on many people's radars at the start of the search. It would have been easy for Woody to have hired somebody more familiar, but he saw that more sweeping changes were necessary.
His other recent searches have also felt sound. The last head coaching search followed a similar method of leaving no stone unturned and interviewing a wide field of qualified candidate. Even though the media was pushing Steve Spagnuolo, the Jets felt Rex Ryan was a better fit. Ryan's tenure has become rocky of late, but that decision still seems like the right one. We can even go back to Eric Mangini, which didn't work out. The idea behind it was poaching the bright protege of Bill Belichick. The Jets were looking to top the Patriots so they took somebody with an insider perspective who might have been able to provide a blueprint.
Does he hire the right people?
Above we talked about process. Now let's talk about results. Woody has hired three general managers and three head coaches. It is too early to judge John Idzik, but we can look at the others. How have the results been? Mixed, to be honest. Terry Bradway and Mike Tannenbaum combined to build six Playoff teams. They made some superb Draft picks who turned into stars. They also made enough poor choices that the team's success was never sustained. This has kept the Jets to one division title in Woody's run and left them lagging behind the Patriots but for a few fleeting moments.
The head coaching list has similarly mixed results. Herman Edwards, Eric Mangini, and Rex Ryan all got off to great starts as Jets head coach, but all fell back a few years in. None has been able to sustain the Jets at the consistently elite level. None of these hires was necessarily a disaster, but every team is aiming higher.
Are changes made at the appropriate time?
You do not want an owner who fires people at the first sign of trouble. That breeds instability. At the same time, an owner who is so loyal to his people that they cannot be fired for gross incompetence does even more harm.
In this area, Woody seems to have pushed the right buttons. The Jets made the Playoffs in three of Terry Bradway's first four seasons. It was tough to fire him. When a 4-12 2005 season exposed the deep flaws in the foundation, Bradway was demoted. Mike Tannenbaum had earned the right to turn things around after a rough 2011 through the team's success, but by the end of 2012, it was obvious he had no plan to fix things.
The only move that was really hotly debated was firing Eric Mangini after three years and a 9-7 season, but that seems to have been vindicated. I'm deducting some points here, however, because the owner is probably to some degree behind Bradway's inexplicable continued employment to this day.
How does the team treat its fans?
I don't know any other way to put it. The Jets do not treat their fans well. In 2012, Jets fans were treated to the highest ticket prices in the league for a mediocre product. At the new stadium, longtime season ticket holders were rewarded for their loyalty by being shoved out the door unless they submitted to a five figure fee on top of the price of tickets. Before the move, the Jets were pioneers in gouging their fans by charging them for the right to be on their season ticket waiting list. (Say what you will about Mike Francesa. He was all over this story and thoroughly humiliated bumbling Jets executive Jay Cross in a mid-decade interview about this topic that forced the Jets to change their policy.)
It also feels like the Jets have turned their back on Long Island, perhaps the area with the biggest concentration of Jets fans in the world. They seemingly have discontinued a tradition of even having one practice out there. You cannot blame the Jets for leaving Hofstra. Those facilities were a joke by NFL standards. You also cannot blame them for moving to Florham Park. It is a lot closer to the stadium. You can, however, blame them for not doing more to cultivate their Long Island fans. Rex Ryan has made a big deal about going away for training camp. Couldn't the team find a suitable spot on Long Island to hold camp instead of going to Cortland?
You might point out that the Jets having nice new facilities and being able to spend big on players is directly related to how much money they make off fans. You have a point. Treatment of fans and the team's financial picture are at least on some level competing interests. They are both important, however, and the Jets have not taken care of their fans.
How does he handle the media?
An owner skilled at handling the press can direct favorable coverage to a team and speak directly to his fan base, keeping it confident in the direction of the team. Early in his tenure, Woody was kind of reclusive when it came to dealing with the media. He has taken on more of a public profile as time has gone on, and...well nobody is ever going to confuse a Woody Johnson press session with the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Comments like, "You can never have too much Tebow," whether unfair or not offer the impression of an owner more worried about hype than football and not at all on the same wavelength as the fan base. His comments last year about Mitt Romney winning the Presidential election being more important than the Jets did not go over well either. Yes, your preferred candidate winning that election should be more important to you than football. Think about the audience, though. Your fans live and die with the team. They are not happen in rough patches. The last thing they need to hear is that the owner's focus is elsewhere.
Does he let his football people operate?
Owners are usually not experts in their sport. They hire seasoned people to run their teams. Some owners, however, let their egos get in the way and mettle too much, which causes problems.
Woody for the most part seems to understand that he is not a football expert so he generally gives his people autonomy. There are still moments where he forces things on people, such as the demand a new general manager keep Rex Ryan for a year.
Does he provide strong leadership?
While you do not want an owner who micromanages every minor aspect of a team, you do want somebody strong enough to step in and prevent the train from going off the tracks when necessary. This is one area where Woody has failed big time.
The owner should not be involved in every minor personnel move, but he should be involved in the major ones. When looking at the high profile mistakes the Jets have made recently, namely the Tim Tebow trade and the Mark Sanchez extension, I cannot help but feel these things never would have happened with a strong owner. Woody might realize he does not know much about football, but to be a great owner, you really do need a working knowledge because those two moves were obvious trainwrecks at the time to most who follow the game.
If you don't like the whole circus storyline, Woody also has to take some of the blame. I get that the media is lazy and full of sensationalism, but is undeniable that the Jets helped open that door through some of their public actions. A strong owner would have had a meeting years ago, made clear the way this organization was to present itself to the public, and put the fear of God into his people. Instead, it feels like Woody has done the complete opposite. He seems to embrace the attention, even if it's negative. He's the one who said, "You can never have too much Tebow." He appears to relish the hype the team gets, even from negative sources.
Does the team win?
This is the very most important test of an owner. In this case, the record is mixed. The Jets have had a measure of success on the field. They are not the pushover they were in the 1990's. The team has made the Playoffs somewhat regularly and had a couple of deep runs. The success has not been sustained, however. This team has still not been to a Super Bowl under Woody. There have been times where it has felt like the Jets were on the cusp of becoming one of those teams that competes for a championship every year like New England, but they have fallen back to earth every single time. If you want to judge Woody against the Jets' pathetic past, he grades great. The Jets aren't competing against their past, however. They are competing against the rest of the NFL. It could be worse, but it also could be better.
So there you have it. I think Woody Johnson is neither a great nor a terrible owner. There are some things he does really well and other things he does really poorly. He's probably somewhere in the middle.
What do you think of these grades? Agree? Disagree? Are there other important areas I neglected to grade?