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Ghosts of Jets Past

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Kansas City Chiefs v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the time I have spent supporting the Jets. Many faces have come and gone through this franchise. The way I view the game has been shaped by experiences with Jets’ key decision-makers over the years. Remembering their successes and failures has made me a sharper observer of football.

With that in mind, today I am going to share with you these experiences and how they have contributed to my understanding of the NFL.

I am going to look at people whose entire tenure as either head coach or general manager was spent during my Jets fandom. For some of the more distant figures, a lot of time has passed, and I was a kid during their respective tenures so my views might not have been as sophisticated. I went back and read media stories from their time to get as accurate of a picture as I could.

Pete Carroll (Head Coach: 1994)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

I have a memory of my dad arriving home from work. He was ashed-faced as he stepped into the house. In a serious voice he asked me to turn off the TV and sit down. It seemed like something bad had happened.

In a serious voice he said to me, “You’re not going to believe what happened.”

“What?” I asked.

“The Jets did the worst thing you can imagine,” he answered.

“What?” I asked again.

“They made Pete Carroll the head coach,” Dad answered in anguish.

You see, Dad hated Pete Carroll. My first memory of watching the NFL was a shot of Carroll on the sideline as Jets defensive coordinator. Dad pointed at him and said, “That’s Pete Carroll. He’s the defensive coordinator. He’s a jerk.”

Dad wasn’t a fan of Carroll’s antics as Jets defensive coordinator. On the job Carroll had famously made a choke gesture at Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich after a missed extra point. Stoyanovich had the last laugh as he later connected on a game-winning field goal. Stuff like that gets you into Dad’s dog house. As a kid who had just started watching football, of course I was going to agree with Dad.

What I thought during his tenure.

It didn’t change much. The Jets finished 6-10 in Carroll’s lone season. The team totally fell apart down the stretch. People remember Dan Marino’s famous fake spike touchdown to beat the Jets that year. What people forget is the Jets led that game 24-6 at one point and didn’t win a game the rest of the year after that loss.

What I think now.

Given that Carroll went on to win two college National Championships at USC and a Super Bowl with the Seahawks, it’s easy to look back now and say the Jets fired a great coach after one year.

I’m not sure it’s quite that simple, though. Almost a decade passed between Carroll’s Jets tenure and his success at USC. In between, there was another stint as an NFL head coach with the Patriots, a tenure that I think has to be considered a failure when considered in context.

There were lots of problems with the way Carroll ran the team. There was an immaturity to him. People around the team in 1994 have noted it. Carroll himself has talked about learning from early career failures on the way to success.

I don’t think the Jets fired a great coach. I think they hired a guy who would later become a great coach too early in his career.

What I learned.

People change. Failing at one point of your career doesn’t have to define you. Coaches can learn from failure and become better later on. Carroll remained himself. He’s still an upbeat, enthusiastic guy. He just figured out how to channel it better.

Long after his Jets tenure ended, I watched Carroll’s USC team blow out Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to win a second straight National Championship with my father. At one point in the second half Dad said to me, “Remember what an idiot that guy was with the Jets? Who would have ever thought he’d grow up and become a great coach?”

I’m with Dad on this one.

Rich Kotite (Head Coach: 1995-1996)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

Even as a kid, the whole thing struck me as very odd. The Jets announced the hiring of Kotite as the new head coach the same day they announced the firing of Carroll. There wasn’t a more thorough search? Didn’t the Kotite-coached Eagles just collapse? This was the guy they hired.

Looking back at news stories at the time he was hired, it seems like my memory held up well. The whole thing seemed like a giant head-scratcher.

I don’t think many foresaw the depths to which the Jets would sink, though. I remember the night Kotite was hired I listened to Bill Daughtry’s show on WFAN. A caller from Philadelphia predicted the Jets would be the worst team in the league for the next three seasons. Daughtry mocked the caller. Kotite might not be an ideal hire, but it couldn’t be that bad. I agreed.

As it turns out, the caller was wrong. Kotite would only make the Jets the worst team in the league for the next two seasons. He would not get a third year.

What I thought during his tenure.

It was brutal going through the Kotite era. The Jets lost his first game 52-14 to the Dolphins. The team just kept finding ways to hit a new low. They frequently looked inept and uncompetitive in games. Kotite would still praise the effort. Occasionally the team would start a game hot and then blow a big lead. Sometimes players wouldn’t know basic rules and make misplays as a result.

Subsequently stories came out about Kotite leaving the team facility early to beat rush hour traffic. That era was a special time.

Kotite also employed Ken Rose as his special teams coach. For my money that guy is the worst coach to ever be employed by an NFL team. You couldn’t make up some of the stuff that happened to the Jets on special teams in that era.

It was an embarrassing time to be a Jets fan.

What I think now.

What can you even say? Over two decades later, the Kotite Jets are still widely remembered as a laughing stock. It was beyond terrible.

What I learned.

There are so many lessons, but perhaps the biggest lesson in retrospect is that unless a team has a homerun hire lined up, it’s important to do a thorough search. There was plenty to suggest Kotite would be a bad hire. At the very least, those concerns needed to be vetted better and understood.

Bill Parcells (Head Coach: 1997-1999 General Manager 1997-2000)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

This was one of two coaching hires that caused the biggest arguments between Dad and I. It was embarrassing to be a Jets fan. I was desperate for somebody to come in and bring credibility to the franchise. I didn’t care who it was. Dad hated Parcells. He didn’t want a Giants coach coming in. I don’t think he ever truly accepted Parcells as the coach of the Jets. During the 1998 run to the AFC Championship Game he at least begrudgingly gave Parcells some credit for turning things around, though.

What I thought during his tenure.

It was amazing. The Jets started winning games. They were actually playing meaningful contests in December. Heck, I even got to see Jets Playoff games.

What I think now.

Parcells wasn’t infallible. There were personnel mistakes like passing on Orlando Pace in the 1997 Draft. There were playing time mistakes like sticking with Rick Mirer for too long after Vinny Testaverde’s injury in 1999. There were also a few questionable in game strategic decisions. He butchered the final game of the 1997 season in Detroit, a loss that cost the Jets a Playoff spot.

With that said, these seem like minor quibbles. Parcells came in and restored respectability to the franchise. They went from one win to one win short of the Super Bowl in two years. His final Draft class in 2000 was also one of the most iconic in Jets history and set his successors up for a nice little run. I just wish he had stuck around longer.

What I learned.

It’s amazing how quickly things can get better when you bring in somebody with credibility to run your team. In 1997 Parcells coached the Jets to 9-7 with essentially the same roster that went 1-15 under Kotite the year before.

Al Groh (Head Coach: 2000)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

Like everybody, I was shocked by the sudden retirement of Parcells and subsequent resignation of Bill Belichick. It was kind of tough to have a feel for Groh.

What I thought during his tenure.

It’s also tough to have good memories of Groh. He started 4-0, but he missed the Playoffs. The Jets had a brutal three game losing streak to end the season. They went from competing for a potential first round bye to out of the tournament in less than a month. Then Groh abandoned ship, taking the head coaching job at the University of Virginia. After a year with so much turmoil, Groh fleeing made me hope he lost every game at Virginia.

What I think now.

It’s tough to judge a coach who leaves after one year. That 2000 season isn’t a fond memory, but part of what makes great coaches is showing how they respond to setbacks. We never got to see that with Groh, although his mediocre tenure at Virginia suggests to me the Jets weren’t missing much.

What I learned.

In retrospect Groh wasn’t a very good hire. Parcells remained the general manager for a year after retiring as head coach so this was his call. He had a reputation for being loyal to “his guys” so Groh was next in line after Belichick jumped ship.

In hindsight Parcells probably would have been better served leaving his comfort zone and going outside his orbit for this hire. There’s always a fine line on stuff like this. You want to be loyal to your people. You want to know you can trust people you hire. But you also have to realistically assess their talents.

Sometimes the right hire is the fresh face. I guess that’s my lesson from Groh.

Terry Bradway (General Manager: 2001-2005)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

It sounded great. Bradway was hyped as a superscout. What wasn’t to love?

What I thought during his tenure.

I quickly became not a fan. His tenure seemed full of inexplicable moves and disappointments. In the 2003 offseason the Jets lost not one but two restricted free agents to Washington because of separate incompetent decisions that made it seem like Bradway didn’t understand the rules. He did rally a bit by putting together a really solid 2004 team that almost made the AFC Championship Game, but things fell apart after that. I wasn’t upset to see him go in 2006.

What I think now.

My thoughts haven’t really changed since he was around. He just added more to his legend by inexplicably sticking around in a reduced front office role for nine more seasons after stepping down as general manager. He was reportedly a driving force behind moves such as trading up for Stephen Hill. And amazingly he got totally unprovable stories planted in the media about him loving Russell Wilson as a prospect to try and make himself look good. Let’s move on. I’m getting upset just thinking about this stuff.

What I learned.

Just because somebody gets hype doesn’t make them right for the job. I don’t think Bradway was hyped to an extreme degree, but he had this sterling reputation as a scout that never panned out.

Beyond that, the lesson from Groh about leaving your comfort zone also applies. Bradway got the job in no small part because he previously had worked with Parcells with the Giants.

A bonus lesson would be to just leave the stage completely once you step down from the big job. Nothing was gained by having a former general manager around aside from that ridiculous media content about meaningless hypothetical Russell Wilson scouting reports. (If you liked Russell Wilson so much, why didn’t you convince the team to get him? Somehow you convinced them to trade up for Hill in that same Draft.)

Herman Edwards (Head Coach: 2001-2005)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

Who?

Herm had never even been a coordinator before. I wasn’t expecting him.

What I thought during his tenure.

I became a big Herm fan while he was here. His teams made the Playoffs in three of his five seasons. The Jets were more disciplined than people realized and always resilient.

Plus he was awesome in press conferences. Rex Ryan was great with the media as well, but there was a method to his madness. Rex was calculated in how he used his interactions with the press. There was something he was trying to accomplish. With Herm I always felt like he was coming up with one-liners on the spot. He was hilarious.

There were some issues, but I blamed them on his assistants.

What I think now.

In retrospect, I think I was way too easy on Herm and let how much I liked him personally cloud my judgment.

I pinned a lot of the issues on his coordinators, particularly offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. Don’t get me wrong. Hackett was terrible, but Herm was the guy who wouldn’t fire him. If the offensive gameplan stinks, it’s the head coach’s job to step in.

I originally blamed Hackett for the conservative playcalling late in the 2004 Playoff game in Pittsburgh that left Doug Brien with too long of a kick, but something that important is really the head coach’s call.

What I learned.

I came away from the Edwards Era with two major lessons.

The first is the head coach is ultimately responsible for issues with assistants.

The second is that evaluating a coach is about more than raw results. You can come up with a narrative to make any coach sound better than he is. For Herm it was, “Three trips to the Playoffs in five years.” But there were real issues with his coaching that would prevent him from ever building a champion.

Eric Mangini (Head Coach: 2006-2008)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

I was kind of lukewarm on Mangini, which made me feel like I was in the minority. I remember the fanbase being really excited about finding a young up and coming coach who was Belichick’s prized pupil.

What I thought during his tenure.

After the first year I thought I got it wrong, and everybody else got it right. The Jets were supposed to compete for the number one overall pick in the Draft in 2006, but they went 10-6 and made the Playoffs. Recently I chatted with somebody in the organization, and that season came up. I talked about how they were expected to be the worst team in the league. That person replied, “And we had the talent to be the worst team in the league that year.” Even though they had a really weak schedule, that has to be a credit to the coaching on some level.

Things fell apart for Mangini quickly, though. I was much kinder to him after a disappointing 2007 than a lot of people were. I gave him a pass after such a great first season. After the 2008 collapse from 8-3 to missing the Playoffs, however, I was done with him.

To be honest, I was surprised when the Jets gave me my wish and fired him. I figured he was going to get at least one more year.

What I think now.

I think Mangini gets remembered far more fondly by a wide segment of the fanbase than he deserves to be.

I maintain the best thing that ever happened to Mangini is Brett Favre. When people think back to that 2008 team and how Mangini got fired, people think he got screwed because Favre was playing hurt. Favre was the most notable part of that season so that is all people remember.

That’s what getting some distance does. It makes you forget the details. You forget about the terrible gameplans. You forget about the bad assistant hires. You forget about how badly other parts of the team underperfomed. You forget about bad in game decisions. You forget that with Favre hurt, it would have made sense to turn to a ground and pound approach. The Jets had an offensive line that helped carry them to deep postseason runs in the following two seasons after Mangini left doing just that.

Mangini also gets an inordinate amount of praise for the team’s Draft success during his tenure. Yes, he was the coach in 2006 and 2007. Yes, the Jets drafted well both years. That doesn’t mean one was the cause of the other. Mangini wasn’t the general manager.

Vernon Gholston was one of the biggest first round busts in NFL history. Mangini was the coach when the Jets picked him. You never hear a word about that when Mangini’s Draft record gets discussed. Look at his Drafts after he went to Cleveland. How did they turn out?

Mangini didn’t deliver for the Jets, and there hasn’t even been a Carroll-esque second act of success in the eleven years since he departed. He’s failed in his subsequent coaching ventures. Yet there’s this nostalgia for him. I don’t get it.

What I learned.

Mangini is a reminder that proximity to a great coach does not equal a great coach. He was Bill Belichick’s protege, but that didn’t make him Bill Belichick. From what we have learned since then, it kind of sounds like he tried to copy a lot of Belichick’s techniques, but they didn’t work.

Belichick is the kind of guy who commands respect, but that doesn’t mean you can get the necessary buy in from players just by acting the exact same way. It’s a lot easier to have success acting that way with six Super Bowl rings. I think Mangini got the job too young and as a result failed to figure out his own style of doing things.

Mike Tannenbaum (General Manager: 2006-2012)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

Tannenbaum ascended to the general manager job shortly after Mangini was hired. Again I was less excited than the fanbase at large. Many saw young rising stars running the organization. I saw inexperience.

What I thought during his tenure.

Like the fortunes of the team during his tenure, my views on Tannenbaum went up and down.

I was originally really mad at him for passing on Matt Leinart and drafting D’Brickashaw Ferguson. (Oops!)

After the success of year one, I came to like him. I blamed Mangini for the team’s underperforming the next two seasons.

Then I came to love Tannenbaum as the Jets made two runs to the AFC Championship Game with rosters full of talent and constantly exciting offseasons. I thought Tannenbaum was a genius. He was constantly able to manipulate the salary cap to create space when the Jets needed a star player.

By the end I saw what happened when the bill came due. The Jets ended up with a roster barren of talent, and all of those maneuverings I had thought were genius moves had really only pushed big payments into the future. Mark Sanchez’s stalling made things even worse.

What I think now.

Tannenbaum is the type of general manager who never thinks about tomorrow. If things break right you might have a fun stretch, but eventually pain will come.

Some coaches or general managers are struck by good or bad luck, and their tenures don’t entirely reflect their strengths and weaknesses.

Tannenbaum’s Jets tenure almost perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows that come with his approach to team building.

What I learned.

I think I learned more about team building in the NFL from the Tannenbaum Era than anybody else the Jets have ever employed.

The biggest lesson I learned from Tannenbaum is that there needs to be a balance between addressing the needs of today and thinking about tomorrow. His regime never did the latter. Whenever the Jets wanted to sign a free agent, a deal was restructured to create the necessary cap space. If the team needed to fill a need, a Draft pick or Draft picks were sent away in a trade for an established player.

This worked for a stretch. But this approach can’t work for an extended period in today’s NFL. If your team is talented, the salary cap means you eventually won’t be able to afford everybody. You also need to replace players who get old and decline. It’s tough to do that effectively under any circumstances. It’s impossible to do when you’ve traded away a good number of your picks, and your cap is clogged by all of the restructuring eventually making once-reasonable contracts super expensive and inflexible.

I also learned about the importance of self-scouting and honest assessments. In his last two years, Tannenbaum made a number of projections about his own players that were far too optimistic, most notably Mark Sanchez. Sanchez was given a contract extension after the 2011 season even though the jury was still out on whether he could be a competent NFL quarterback. It was easy for the Jets to talk themselves into it. The team had gone on Playoff runs with Sanchez in his first two seasons...but he wasn’t the driving force on either of those teams. In some ways he had held them back. He had improved his statistics in 2011 over his first two seasons...but those numbers were still below average. Additionally, his play had collapsed down the stretch along with the Jets’ chances that year. There were real reasons for doubting Sanchez. It was been more comfortable in the moment for Tannenbaum to only look at the rosiest possible evidence. It would have been painful to admit there were problems with Sanchez, and the Jets needed to think about a backup plan. Ultimately doubling down with that extension didn’t avoid a day of reckoning, though. It only made that day more costly once it arrived. Being able to honestly assess your team is critical, even if that assessment unveils unpleasant truths.

On that note I learned not to avoid taking hype at face value when evaluating players. Ever wonder how I knew in advance that the Trumaine Johnson signing was probably a bad idea? I’ll tell you. I feel hook, line, and sinker for the hype around Santonio Holmes. Holmes was a fine receiver, a former Super Bowl MVP. The Jets hyped him as a premium offensive weapon. Instead of looking at all of the evidence, which clearly showed he wasn’t more than a good complementary part, I just bought into what was said and wrote a bunch of stupid stuff about Holmes being a superstar level talent. As a result of that mistake, I wasn’t fooled when Johnson was incorrectly hyped as a superstar corner.

Finally on the same topic, I learned that a team isn’t always just the sum of its parts. After the two runs to the AFC Championship Game, the Jets started cutting corners. They thought they could bring in any talented big name and make it work, no matter how much baggage the player had. Some of these players just didn’t fit. Others caused problems in the locker room that spilled over to the team’s on field performance. It’s easy to lose track of how important fit is in this era of football. When we add a player to our fantasy teams, we just add his statistical production. It’s that simple. This isn’t how real football works, though. It’s easy to clamor for the talented, problem-maker when he becomes available, but building a team in the NFL isn’t only about talent. Fit matters too. That goes for the scheme and it goes for locker room harmony.

Rex Ryan (Head Coach: 2009-2014)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

The early days of this website were spent pounding the table for this hire. I thought Rex was a brilliant defensive mind and exactly what the Jets needed. I spent a lot of time fighting the New York sports columnist logic that Steve Spagnuolo was the right hire. The argument, “Tom Landry, Bill Parcells, and Bill Belichick were once Giants defensive coordinators. They became great head coaches. Spagnuolo is the Giants defensive coordinator. Therefore, he too will become a great head coach,” didn’t seem too compelling to me.

This was the other Jets coach that caused a rift between Dad and I. While I loved the Rex hire, Dad thought Rex would be just like his father, Buddy Ryan.

Dad remembered Buddy Ryan as a guy who frequently cared more about how his defense played than the performance of the full team. Buddy also talked a big game. But even in Buddy Ryan’s best years, his teams couldn’t back up his big talk and win it all. Dad figured Buddy’s son would have the same traits. I disagreed.

Oops.

If I was right about Parcells, Dad was right about Rex.

What I thought during his tenure.

For the first two years, my prediction of Rex being a coaching superstar looked pretty good. The Jets came within a game of the Super Bowl in both seasons. They went deeper into the Playoffs than the Patriots. The defenses were as good as advertised, and the team had a (seemingly) promising young quarterback.

Then in year three we saw warning signs. The offense stalled. The locker room fell apart.

I honestly thought it was a small step back. Rex would hire the right offensive coordinator and straighten Mark Sanchez out. He’d get control of the locker room.

Only it never happened. He never made the Playoffs again, and the flaws we saw in the third year grew. He never showed an ability to develop an offense. The locker room showed cracks after an exodus of veteran leaders he inherited. His game management was poor. He also showed a tendency to remain too loyal to underperforming players. Combined with objectively poor rosters, it was too much to overcome.

What I think now.

Rex is a complicated figure to analyze in Jets lore. What do you focus on? The spectacular first two seasons vs. the failure of the final four. The defensive wizardry vs. the offensive ineptitude. The runs to the AFC Championship Game vs. the failure to deliver on his Super Bowl guarantees.

Ultimately Rex was a coach of many contradictions. I think he is somebody whose positives are spellbinding. There’s greatness inside of him. It’s enticing But his flaws are too great for that greatness to ever be fully tapped.

What I learned.

On a positive note, I learned what can happen when you eliminate excuses and set your goals high. Rex came to New York and famously declared he wasn’t here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.

Say what you will about the guy. That’s exactly the attitude the Jets need. I think this franchise has been caught in the mindset that it is resigned to playing for second for far too long. It’s the Jets’ unfortunate fate to share a division with a historic dynasty in New England, and things are hopeless.

The one stretch where the Jets shed that mindset, they went toe to toe with the Pats and won. Ironically, late in Rex’s tenure he lost this mindset to the point where he was demanding praise for the team merely playing hard while it was getting blown out.

The Rex experience also taught me the difference between a good coordinator and a good head coach. I wanted the man hired for his defensive brilliance, and he brought that. But he didn’t bring the same for the other side of the ball. In fact there were moments where he didn’t seem to think he had any responsibility for the offense. I think back to the horrible Christmas Eve game against the Giants in 2011 when Rex in his postgame press conference seemed shocked that his team threw the ball as frequently and acted as though he was powerless to prevent it.

Look, most head coaches have spent more on one side of the ball than the other. If they are really good, they might even be very hands on with that side of the ball. But to be a successful head coach, on some level you have to oversee the entire team. Your job is to provide a degree of supervision even if you aren’t calling going into the weeds calling out the gap assignments on a given play.

The Rex experience also taught me how fragile a window of contention can be. The night in January 2011 when the Jets lost the AFC Championship Game to the Steelers, it was devastating. But after two straight deep Playoff runs with a young quarterback, the future seemed bright. Few would have guessed we would be sitting here in 2019, and that would still be the last postseason game the Jets have played. The bottom line is that when you have an opportunity to do something special, you’d better take advantage. You never know when that chance will come again. You can’t always comfort yourself after a loss by saying things will be better next year.

Finally, Rex’s tenure taught me that making decisions in the NFL should be more about the future than the past. I sometimes think about a Grantland article written about his firing back in 2015.

Was it a mistake? We’ll never be sure. But it never felt real, this long-predicted breakup — it’s been like watching two married people who really love each other foolishly divorce after a few bad years.

I don’t think it’s possible to disagree with an analogy more than I disagree with that one. The Jets-Rex breakup was long overdue at the time it happened It was like the relationship that started off great but then turned bad. The two sides then stayed in it far too long trying to recapture the initial magic.

At the end of 2012, the Jets had to make a decision on Rex. They were coming off a second straight embarrassing season. His flaws were clearly evident at this point, but they kept him around. That proved to be a mistake. Probably the biggest reason he was not fired was his early success. I was conflicted myself. There was residual loyalty from those postseason runs.

The problem? He clearly wasn’t the guy to lead a rebuilding project. He had shown little ability to develop young players. He had no patience for a long-term play. He couldn’t build an offense from the ground up. Now it seems obvious to me. It didn’t at the time because I was looking to the past. The question wasn’t the coach’s past performance, though. It was whether he was the right man to lead the charge to the future.

John Idzik (General Manager: 2013-2014)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

I was just excited that the Jets didn’t make an internal hire. I felt like there needed to be widespread changes in the organization.

As for his ability to do the job? I had no idea.

With Idzik, I don’t see many tangible things I can point to that either fill me with confidence or dread. I just see a long record of working in various roles in the NFL.

What I thought during his tenure.

I thought Idzik had no idea what he was doing. He seemed like he was in totally over his head to me and had no clue how to find talent.

What I think now.

In retrospect I kind of feel bad for Idzik. Now I feel like he had no shot. I don’t think Woody Johnson was ever going to hire somebody who was going to make those widespread changes I thought were necessary. One of the conditions for the job was even accepting a head coach who had been here four years.

I recall the unverified rumors at the time of the interview process that the stock of one of the original frontrunners went way down for allegedly telling Woody Johnson the organization needed to totally change the way it conducted business. It’s conjecture, but along with some of the other things we know, that story resonates.

I think Woody Johnson realized he couldn’t keep Mike Tannenbaum, but he didn’t want to totally reconstruct the Jets. No matter whom he hired, I don’t think the Jets were going to make the changes necessary. The coaching staff stayed in place. While there was some turnover in the scouting department, some prominent members stayed.

Did Idzik want to make changes? Was he rejected? Or did Idzik get hired because Woody knew he wouldn’t want to make drastic changes? At some point the answer is irrelevant. This was never going to work.

On top of this, Idzik didn’t seem to care about the communication aspect of his job. Like it or not, being a general manager means communicating with the fans. It’s one thing to get annoyed with the beat writers, but anecdotally I have even heard stories of Idzik rejecting softball interview opportunities with team employees where he could have articulated a vision for his fanbase.

My gut feeling is that Idzik wouldn’t have had what it took anyway, but now I think he was more a symptom than he was the actual problem.

What I learned.

The entire organization needs to be on the same page at all times. That makes it a bad idea to force senior level subordinates on senior managers. They have different agendas. During his tenure, Idzik’s actions were guided by a long-term timeframe, while the coach he was mandated to keep was on the hot seat. This bred resentment as Idzik did not make moves to help the team in the short-term that the coach needed to save his job. This led to all sorts of negative consequences, including a covert battle in the media.

It also doesn’t help when the owner says, “I don’t want to be patient. I want to win now,” in the middle of a free agency period where his team is keeping quiet because of the general manager’s long-term building strategy.

Instead of starting fresh, the hiring of Idzik was a half-measure that created conflicting agendas. It was destined to fail from the start, and the issues transcended Idzik. When your organization needs a total overhaul, a half-measure won’t do. These are lessons any NFL team should take away.

Todd Bowles (Head Coach: 2015-2018)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

I thought Bowles had the potential to be a great coach. His resume checked all of the boxes. He had success as a position coach and a coordinator. He had a stint as an interim head coach, which gave him a taste of the head job. He had worked under successful coaches such as Bill Parcells, Andy Reid, and Bruce Arians. There was a lot to like.

What I thought during his tenure.

He was a dud. There isn’t much else to say. He wasn’t given the talent to win, but you can judge a coach’s performance no matter the talent level on his team. Bowles’ performance was poor after a good first season.

What I think now.

Unlike most of these, there hasn’t much a ton of time for reflection. Some guys are better cut out to be coordinators than head coaches. Some guys learn after failing in their first stint as a head coach and do a better job after getting a second chance. Bowles will ultimately fit into one of these two categories.

What I learned.

The Bowles Era showed me the importance of having a coach who evolves with the times. We are in an era where NFL offenses are evolving with cutting edge play design and schemes. Analytics are showing us that aggressive in game decisions give your team an advantage. Coaches who don’t follow the trends put their teams at a disadvantage.

These weren’t Bowles’ only problems, but it’s clear his inability to embrace modern thinking put an already undermanned team into even longer odds during his tenure.

Mike Maccagnan (General Manager: 2015-2019)

What I thought at the time he was hired.

By the time the Jets were searching for a general manager in 2015, I was well past the point where I had any sort of feel for the quality of candidates. Their previous work is all behind the scenes. Unless somebody is outrageously good or bad, it is virtually impossible to tell (and even then it isn’t certain). Maccagnan seemed qualified on paper so I was good with the hire and willing to give him a chance.

What I thought during his tenure.

I was really happy the first year when his moves worked out. Then they almost all went bad the second year. While most of the attention focused on the early expiration date of his 2015 free agent class, I was more concerned with how little his early Draft classes were producing.

Both were the start of a trend that never reversed itself.

It also seemed odd to me that a guy with a Draft background was so willing to give away picks and seldom attempted to acquire extra picks. Wasn’t the whole point of hiring a college scouting guy to build through the Draft?

What I think now.

I can’t believe how many people went down with the ship on Maccagnan, defending him until the end. I don’t see how anybody can stand by the record. The team was awful for most of his tenure. His big ticket moves almost all failed, and there was no long-term strategy to collect assets in order to build a winner.

The criticisms of Maccagnan are very scattered. I’ve heard that he wasn’t decisive enough. On the other hand he was one of the biggest free agent spenders of any general manager during his tenure, which indicates a degree of decisiveness.

I think this shows how difficult it was to decipher what he was trying to do. He made a bunch of moves. Some worked. Most didn’t. But within this series of moves, it was difficult to see a singular strategy that would lead to the building of a complete roster.

What I learned.

I took two major lessons from the Maccagnan Era.

The first is how hard it is to do well in free agency. Drafting effectively is hard, but when you think about it free agency might be harder. The Draft is really about evaluating talent, potential, and fit. In free agency you have to do these things, but you also have to thread the needle on price. To land a player, a team must make an offer enticing enough to make the free agent sign but not so high as to harm the team’s financial situation. Maccagnan leaned almost exclusively on free agency for his roster building, and this experience showed me why it just isn’t a valid way to build in the NFL. (A well-timed signing is a valuable tool, but it can’t be the only tool in your kit.)

The second lesson I took from Maccagnan is how a team must have a plan to address premium positions. All positions are not equal in the NFL. Some have an outsized impact. I can’t say I agree with people who say a team should only pick players at premium positions in the first round of the Draft. That seems like a recipe for picking busts. I can think of plenty of examples where a player at a less important position was the correct pick. Even with some of the individual examples people use from the first round to criticize Maccagnan, I’m not sure he made the wrong decision picking the player at the less important position.

But if you aren’t going to pick players at important positions in the first round, there has to be a strategy to procure these players. Maccagnan’s lack of one was a reason for his downfall.