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New York Jets: The Culture of Dysfunction

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are many problems with the Jets right now. One that is really shining through is the lack of cohesion between the coaching staff and the front office. The two do not seem to be on the same page when it comes to building a team, and that seems to be part of the problem.

It goes back to a fateful decision Woody Johnson made two years ago. Instead of either cleaning house after a disastrous 2012 season or at least letting his new general manager hire a replacement, he made it clear his new general manager would be forced to keep Rex Ryan as head coach. This creates a problem.

It is one thing if the head coach is in charge of football operations as is the case in New England. The Jets decided to keep a structure where the head coach reports to the general manager. (Not that anybody would ever want Rex having the final say over personnel.)

In any business setting a new boss is going to have to keep certain people in his organization after being hired at least for some period of time. For a newly hired general manager in the NFL a head coach is not one of them. It is too important for the head coach and general manager to have the same vision, It is also a case where demand for these jobs is high, and supply is low. In theory can you find a quality general manager who will work well with a head coach already in place? Yes, but it is a lot easier to find a quality general manager and let him find a good coach he can work with.

By doing things the way the Jets chose to do them, it created all kinds of complications. The head coach's performance directly impacts the job performance of a general manager. The way Woody Johnson approached things made John Idzik responsible for the results of the team, but by forcing him to keep Ryan, Johnson gave Idzik no real authority. If you do not have the ability to fire a subordinate, and said subordinate knows this, the biggest incentive for that subordinate to respect authority and follow orders is gone. It is not a good situation.

It also creates a situation where the general manager might be able to escape blame for his own poor performance. After a season like this, Idzik could easily go to Johnson and say something like, "The problem here is the head coach didn't develop the players I got him. You can't blame me. I didn't have say over the head coach." Why would this be a problem? In the case of the Jets, a statement like that doesn't hold up under any kind of scrutiny. Idzik has put out a bottom tier roster. Is Rex Ryan really to blame when he has been handed cornerbacks no other team in the league values? Yet you create a situation where Idzik could walk away scot-free from a failure to do his job well.

Doing things this way additionally creates a natural tension. Entering this season Ryan needed to win now, while Idzik seemed to have a longer term view unless things collapsed. They have and both currently need results now, but not having the head coach and general manager tied at the hip created the potential for unhealthy conflict on major decisions that could have impacted the team.

It is troubling the owner could not see this.I saw this two years ago, and many of you did also.

This lack of cohesion creates major problems. Every head coach has his own system. Certain positions are a higher priority than others for each coach, and certain skillsets have more value. For Rex Ryan cornerback is perhaps second in importance to quarterbacks. Yet there was a clear gap between the head coach and the front office approaching the position in the offseason. Ryan and Idzik had very different values on certain players. The general manager did not have the same philosophy, and the results have been nothing short of abysmal. This is a vivid example of why the head coach and general manager need to be on the same page. There will always be disagreements, but the overall philosophies on team building cannot be a canyon wide or the general manager will not find players who will maximize the team's performance in a given system.

Unfortunately the problems do not seem to stop there. The owner's actions have created a power vacuum with no clear division of responsibilities. Take the way the quarterback situation is handled. Rex Ryan won't tell you it is his call to name a starting quarterback. We keep hearing the term, "a Jets decision" to describe the process of naming a starter.

Just look at that quote. Note Rex says it was "our decision." He doesn't say "my decision."  It has been acknowledged fairly widely that Idzik has at least some degree of influence on the starting quarterback decision. That is a problem. The head coach's job is to build the best strategy on game day. He is developing the game plan. That game plan dictates the players who should be in the lineup  and are most capable of executing that plan. This is not a place where the general manager should have much if any influence. The Jets have that, though. Is it another result of the general manager not trusting the head coach? We don't know for sure, but we do know the owner has not laid out a clear division of responsibilities. That has negative implications on the team because it puts decisions into the hands of people who have no business making these decisions.

Woody Johnson is not a meddlesome owner in the way that Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder are. He is a meddlesome owner, though, because he doesn't hire one person and then simply let that guy run the football team. He forces critical subordinates on the people he hires which breeds this culture of dysfunction. In New England everybody knows the buck stops with Bill Belichick. In Baltimore it is Ozzie Newsome. The Jets have a diffusion of responsibility. Then in the instances where the owner should step in and make sure everybody stays in their lane such as with the quarterbacks, Woody is nowhere to be found. He makes some heavy handed decisions in situations where he should give his people breathing room and absent when he is needed to keep the ship on course. At the end of the day the owner's job is to make sure things don't go off the rails. A good owner is part of the major decisions and should use his veto power on monumentally bad ideas like giving Mark Sanchez a contract extension or trading for Tim Tebow. He sets out a clear chain of command, hires a good football man to run his operation, and then lets that man handle the day to day stuff. You see the owner in the box on game day and at charity events for the team.

The dysfunction in this organization ultimately doesn't fall on Rex Ryan or John Idzik. It doesn't fall on Neil Glat, Jed Hughes, or Ira Akselrad. It is about the deficiencies in the way the owner runs the team.

This more than anything is likely why the Jets ended up with a general manager the caliber of John Idzik two years ago. Should Idzik get fired some have suggested it would be a challenge to find a candidate willing to work for a team that fired its general manager after just two seasons. No, the challenge will be finding somebody who will work for a franchise like the Jets who have this embedded culture of dysfunction.

This began back after Johnson first bought the team. Herman Edwards' first defensive coordinator was Ted Contrell. Herm had a defensive background, yet the team hired somebody who didn't fit his philosophy at all. Edwards believed in an attacking defense. Cottrell believed in one built around gap control. Why was he hired? Cottrell had been a finalist for the head coaching job, and there were rumblings that Johnson favored him. Was Cottrell forced on Edwards? It might explain things.

The Jets need to find somebody to run their operation, and that person needs to be given full control. No more the general manager needs to keep a head coach. No more a head coach needs to have a coordinator. No more this player has to be traded because the owner has a personality clash with an agent. Under normal circumstances that might mean giving the current general manager more authority, but Idzik has done little to show he is up to the task. Johnson is going to have to go outside the organization, convince somebody credible that he has learned his lesson, and that things will be different going forward. It won't be easy based on this team's recent history.

The imprint good owners have on the team is hiring good people and letting them do their jobs. They don't need to assert themselves by dictating personnel. Hopefully the mess the Jets have become will serve as a wake up call to an owner who has been doing things the wrong way.