Tom Coughlin and Rex Ryan filmed a commercial together last August. It was for MetLife Inc., the insurance company and name that sits atop the stadium where both teams play. It was shot separately with Coughlin, the New York Giants coach, and Ryan, the New York Jets coach, talking to each other and to the animated character Charlie Brown. It was then combined as if both men were sitting side by side.
Coughlin and Ryan have intersected as New York coaches for the past six years. As their teams embark on December football, Coughlin's crew is 3-9 and Ryan's is 2-10. Both likely will, in Charlie Brown infamous fashion, have their security blankets yanked from beneath them as soon as their seasons end. This two-part series examines what went wrong, first with Ryan and the Jets. It is reported from interviews with Jets management, players and league sources who requested anonymity.
For most of this ruthless season, a difference in philosophy and friction has boiled between Jets head coach Rex Ryan and his offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
"They talk," a Jets player said. "And then they go snipping behind each others' backs."
Ryan all season long wanted a ground and pound offense. Mornhinweg is a West Coast offense traditionalist who believes the passing game is nearly always the answer. Ryan hired Mornhinweg before the 2013 season. Last year the Jets finished 8-8 and ran it more than they passed it, finishing second in the league in rushing yards per game and last in passing yards per game. In this 2-10 season, thus far they have thrown it more than ran it, yet, again rank second in rushing and last in passing.
Eyes rolled after Monday night's Dolphins-Jets game, when the Jets ran the ball 49 times and passed it only eight times before their final drive.
Speculation ran rampant that Ryan employed this tactic to stick it to Jets general manager John Idzik over being "forced" to start quarterback Geno Smith.
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Ryan has never affirmed that such an edict was made by Idzik, but denies the game plan was retribution. Ryan responded bluntly on Wednesday morning in a telephone interview: "No, I did not do that. And you can print that."
Incredibly, the lopsided run-pass ratio in that game was more Mornhinweg sticking it to Ryan, both a Jets player and a management source said.
"It was like Marty finally gave in to what Rex has been asking him to do all year long to prove his point," a Jets player said. "We lost doing it Rex's way, so, I guess Marty felt vindicated. We don't understand why Rex let it go on this long. Rex allows his coaches to grow and be great. But he also allows them to hang themselves, and that winds up with him hanging himself. Rex is not a confrontational person. He acts like it. He talks like it. But he believes in giving his coaches respect and room."
For Ryan, that has come at great expense.
A Jets management source said that Ryan on at least two occasions this season considered firing Mornhinweg.
Two Jets players said that before the Steelers game on Nov. 9 that "speculation" and "intense pressure" soaked the atmosphere at the Jets complex over the feeling that Ryan would be fired afterward. Maybe it was because a bye week would follow, giving a new coach more time to pick up the pieces. Maybe it was because a loss would saddle the Jets with a ninth straight defeat. Ryan answered: The Jets finagled a huge upset with a 20-13 victory.
But then failures to Buffalo and Miami followed. That pushed them into double-digit losses for the season, closing any remaining hope of Ryan building a retention plan.
There is emphasis among the Jets management and players on both Ryan's and Mornhinweg's failures to adjust this season. Ryan for not backing off more on his blitzes to cover for his depleted and challenged cornerbacks, first, and secondary overall. Mornhinweg for his pass-first offense, for "too much" volume that he gave Smith and his failure to more effectively let his running game be more of a complement to his passing game.
Though Ryan spoke to the Miami offensive game plan in a direct interview, he chose to issue this statement on all elements of this story via the Jets public relations department:
"From the time I became head coach of this team, whether we are winning or losing, I have always told our coaches and players to push each other. We always talk about how we can get better and what we need to do to win. During a season like this, it's tough. We sometimes have to push each other even harder so that we can figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. And we are still tight."
Latest Loss for Jets
Idzik has vocal detractors in the Jets locker room and beyond.
Some Jets players shook their heads when receiver Eric Decker was brought in from Denver "where he was a No. 4 receiver and we made him a No. 1, gave him $7.5 million and found out he was of little or no help," one Jets player said.
"Idzik did not give Rex the pieces he needed to fit his system," another said. "He did not get this team what it needed this year to win. Either he is the worst negotiator in football or he set us up to lose."
This punishing view of Idzik rolls into the coaching staff, a Jets management source said, who insisted the Jets coaching staff was primarily on one-year coaching deals last season and again this season. It set a culture of pressure on top of pressure for all of the coaches. It set a culture that made coaching families hang even more than usual on every win and every loss. The NFL norm, a West Coast NFL general manager explained, is that coaching staffs are given at least two-year deals in their current season. If fired, it gives them a year to find new jobs. If they find one quickly, the second year salary is offset. It set an "incredibly bad culture to do it the other way," the general manager said.
Idzik has always insisted that his plan is and was to win now and into the future.
We could see what was happening on the field for the Jets during this tumultuous season.
This is a window into what was happening off it.
A tortured lack of clear and honest communication, fractured perceptions from locker room to coaches to management and the gut-wrenching emotions that bubble when, simply, you lose a swath of football games. The Jets play at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, one of four games they have left before drastic change inevitably comes.
"Idzik, when he took over last year, should have just ran everybody off and found the coach he wanted," a league source said. "This should have been done from the start. It would have been a lot less toxic."