I think whenever a coach reaches his sixth season, there is going to be division in the fan base about whether he is the right guy. There are two exceptions. One is if the coach has delivered multiple championships. The second comes when the coach has gone on a deep Playoff run the year before. Rex Ryan is about to enter his sixth season as Jets head coach, and sure enough there is some debate.
I think it would be fair to say the majority is in Rex's corner after the Jets overachieved their way to a .500 season last year. Rex certainly has his detractors. Any coach who misses the Playoffs three straight years will. What is interesting is the passion on the side of many who like Rex. Usually a sixth year coach who has not won a championship will have defenders, but these defenders will not have a ton of passion. They will simply be in wait and see mode. To be certain many, myself included, are in this category with Rex. Still, Rex has supporters with passion not typical of a coach who has won 53% of his games and made the Playoffs in less than half of his seasons. Why is this?
I think it speaks to the experience of being a Jets fan. It is not a fun experience. We do not root for a team with a rich history and a ton of iconic figures. We have one icon, Joe Namath, and he hasn't suited up for the team in almost four decades. Two players whose on field performance ought to make them icons, Joe Klecko and Curtis Martin, are among the most underappreciated players in NFL history.
This is a team that does not have much of an identity. Unlike any other team in this league, there is almost no large area where the Jets are the most popular NFL team. The Giants are the king in New York and have been for a long time. It is true throughout the entire area aside from a stretch of Long Island. The Giants are a storied franchise. The Jets are not. The Jets have been in the Giants' shadow. They even played their home game in a stadium bearing the name of their crosstown rival for almost two decades. Up until six years ago, they trained at a third rate college facility. Since the turn of the century, the Jets also saw a coach leave them at the altar, go to a division rival, and go to the Super Bowl five times, winning three.
It has been a rough go of things. Then in 2009 the Jets hired a new coach. He wanted to be here. He understood this team's culture and history. When he was a kid, his dad coached on the Namath team that won the Super Bowl. This is what he grew up on. When he took the job, his father told him, "That's my team. Don't screw it up." There aren't many people who have embraced this team's culture.
Furthermore, he made us hope. After all of these years of suffering, a coach came along and dared to talk and dream big. He said he was here to win championships. He wasn't going to kiss the rings of the rival coach who already won. Then he delivered, yes, falling short of the ultimate goal, but making deep runs into the postseason that put the league on notice that the Jets were an NFL force.
Then things started to backslide. Still many of us hope. We want to win, and we want to do it with this guy. He gets it. He's one of us. Eric Mangini wasn't. Don't get me wrong. Had he won a championship or two, people would have loved him. Heck, people would have wanted to build statues of him. It would have been copying the Belichick model. Parcells was a Giant first and foremost. We love what he did here, but nobody remembers him as a Jet. Al Groh was gone before anybody could get a read on him. Herman Edwards had the personality to become this type of figure, but there were times it felt like personality was all he had and that he used it to mask his lack of ability on the job.
I don't know whether Rex Ryan will be the coach of the Jets in a year. I don't know whether he will deserve to be the coach of the Jets in a year. I know a lot of people really want him to succeed, though. This fan base has been seeking an icon for a long time.