The Jets’ big looming question: To fire Rex Ryan, or not to fire Rex Ryan?

(ed. note: please welcome our latest contributor to the blog. Smiglet will be writing regularly in coverage of the Jets, advanced statistical analysis, and more.)

All offseason I’ve seen opinions and articles how Rex Ryan is guaranteed to be fired following the Jets upcoming season. Reasons cited have generally fallen into the following categories:

  • He failed to come through on his Super Bowl guarantees,
  • The new GM should be allowed to bring in his own guy,
  • His continuous support of Mark Sanchez in the face of fire and poor play.

All of these reasons are perfectly legitimate. Ryan always seemed to promise just a little more than he delivered. New regimes always create turnover in both rosters and coaching. Ryan’s opinion on Sanchez has never been close to the truth. All that said, the Jets would be making an enormous mistake in firing him after just one more year.

In 2009 Ryan took over the job from the fired Eric Mangini, who was unable to make the playoffs after a big splurge in free agency. Ryan was a new face, but the money had been spent; the roster was largely the same as in 2008. Tons of money was invested in players that didn’t really perform to the level of their price tag. Alan Faneca had a high price tag for an offensive guard and wasn’t even good in pass protection. Calvin Pace was coming off a mediocre 7 sack / 24 pressure season. Vernon Gholston was getting paid an obscene amount of money despite never even seeing the field. Laveranues Coles was replaced by dropaholic Braylon Edwards, who wasn’t even signed until a few games into the season. The QB situation went from Brett Favre to the infamous Sanchez. Opinions on that Jets squad were pretty much just as low as they are now, and their roster was by and large regarded as a bottom 10 NFL talent.

The 2008 defense was pretty average at best: not much pass rush, solid against the run; 18th in points allowed, 16th in yards, and not much love from any advanced statistics. Enter Rex Ryan, along with Bart Scott and Jim Leohnard, from Baltimore. Immediately, the defense skyrockets to the undisputed #1 unit in the league; points, yards, advanced statistics across the board agree on this point. Darrelle Revis, who was a decent corner in 2008, is now in the conversation for DPOY and best player in the league…What? How does such a massive differential occur with such minimal personnel change?

I can confidently say that this was almost entirely due to the switch from Mangini to Ryan. Under Mangini, the pass rush was nonexistent, game plans were transparent and stubborn, and the players looked underwhelming everywhere. Under Ryan, the same players looked like game-changers. Anyone could be used as a pass rusher– even safeties and corners. Free, uncovered rushers were a common occurrence. It was clear that Ryan’s defense was taking plenty of risks, but almost all of the risks were centered around Revis, who was now a seemingly impenetrable wall of coverage, regardless of which player was in front of him. The difference in scheme, adjustment, deception, and overall strength of coaching was beyond obvious; Ryan has made every Jets defense of the past decade and further look like a joke.

2010-2012 has only confirmed to me that Ryan is undoubtedly one of the best defensive coaches the NFL has ever seen. 2010 once again put Revis on display, confirming Ryan’s bold projection that he is the best CB in the NFL. They gave up more points in 2011 (20th), but their yardage statistics (5th) and advanced statistics (Football Outsiders #2 defense, Advanced NFL stats #2 defense) indicated that the defense was comparably as good as any other year with Ryan and Revis. 2012 saw Revis play just one and a half games, yet the defense was still solid– 8th in yards allowed, 9th by Football outsiders, 10th by Advanced NFL stats. By this point, Ryan had molded Antonio Cromartie from underachiever into a lockdown corner, which allowed him to continue running his scheme despite a weak core of players. They were again only 20th in points allowed, but you have to consider the effects on field position and opponents’ scoring of having an offense that turns it over 30+ times EVERY season. In 2011 and 2012, the Jets offense turned it over a total of 34 (29th) and 37 (30th) times, clearly inflating the defense’s points allowed.

Okay– so Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind. Most people accept that but still want him fired. Why? Whatever happened to the fan pastime of blaming the QB for everything? All around the NFL, QBs are often looked at as the leaders of the organization and, depending on wins and losses, the chumps responsible for a team’s failure. And by now, the mass opinion regarding Mark Sanchez’s ability is clear. It seems like Ryan is the only person who has ever defended him– and has done so, indeed, to unbelievably extreme proportions. But ask yourself what any other coach would do in that situation: your franchise has invested a bunch of money in a young QB, and he’s struggling. Your GM refuses to bring in even a semblance of a competition at QB, and signs the youngster to an awful contract extension for the sake of squeezing out a few more cap dollars. Are you seriously going to throw one of these guys under the bus? Are you going to go blame your GM or QB to the media? A good coach, a rational coach, a leader of men, would not. You may not approve of Ryan’s words with the media (outside of guarantees), but you can’t say that you don’t understand them.

New regimes like bringing in their own guys, and that makes sense when it comes to players who have trade value and contracts that command cap space. But what about a coach who is clearly better than whoever will replace him? Is the fact that he embarrassed himself publicly enough to forget about that and accept a downgrade at head coach? Are we really in an age where media perceptions force the hand of a franchise? If John Idzik is smart, he will realize what a valuable asset Ryan is, and that he is easily better than anyone else available out there. People are not so willing to forgive and forget, but this is not an emotional decision, it’s a business decision. Here’s hoping the Jets make the right one.

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