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The Evolution of New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan: 2012

By Craig Hoffman
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Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 4th part of a 5 part series on the evolution of Rex Ryan. You can find parts 1-3 here, here and here.

As 2011 finished and the team ended up fractured and out of the playoffs some changes needed to be made. One change was at Offensive Coordinator where Brian Schottenheimer was removed and replaced by Tony Sparano, a man Rex picked because he shared the Ground and Pound philosophy. Sparano, who was recently fired as the Head Coach of the Dolphins, had only one year of offensive play calling experience and that was with the Cowboys in 2006.  Here are Rex Ryan’s thought process on hiring Sparano from a May 27th press conference:

“It’s funny, because I never liked him,” Ryan replied. “It was the same way. I always looked at him, ‘Shoot, this guy.’ My biggest thing is, he thought he was tougher than me. He thought his team was tougher than mine, and I thought mine was tougher than his, and I thought I was tougher than him. “But one thing I always did was I respected him. I recognize him being an outstanding football coach and his teams played hard. You could tell he was passionate about the game. That was why it was easy for me when we had a job open, that’s the first guy I went to.”

The hiring didn’t work out as the offense only averaged 15.6 points per game, the play calling came under question as did his use of personnel, specifically his use of Wildcat (including spread-option) packages. The way he pulled Sanchez after a positive play and inserted Tebow for a play or two threw off the rhythm of the offense and did more harm than good. Sparano was not helped by Shonn Greene’s plodding running, the lack of separation from a depleted wide receiver group, an injury to Santonio Holmes, and the many turnovers of quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Speaking of the Sanchez/Tebow dynamic ,the other notable 2012 transaction was the acquisition of Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos. Tebow famously led the Broncos to the playoffs after a 1-4 start with most of the games playing out with Tebow performing poorly for 3 quarters then leading a 4th quarter comeback for the victory. Tebow ran the read option offense that he had run while he was in college at Florida. He was a run-first quarterback who was and is very limited as a passer. What differentiates Tebow from other quarterbacks is the cult of followers, including the media, that surround him. These people are only fans of Tim’s and root for the starting quarterback to fail so Tebow can play. For example in Denver, they put up billboards begging John Fox to start Tebow. Tebow for his part refused to tell the fans to stop it and support the starter, Kyle Orton despite the urging of his teammates.

The Jets decided to acquire Tebow to be the backup quarterback, “compete” with Sanchez to become the starter and to run the read option offense. Boy did the Jets miscalculate. First, the team had to in essence install two offenses. One a conventional attack that fit Mark Sanchez and the other the read option for Tebow. Second they vastly underestimated the media reaction. ESPN came to Florham Park for a week and was wall to wall in their Tebow coverage. The beat reporters were charting the passes for training camp practices and every other article on Pro Football Talk was Jets related. Here are Rex Ryan’s thoughts on the acquisition of Tebow and the roles he would play:

“I don’t see Tim just holding a clipboard. He’s going to be playing for us. There is no doubt,” Ryan said at the league meetings. “He will have a role. We know that. There won’t be a better Wildcat quarterback in the game. Is that his only role? I don’t believe that – we’ll see what happens.”

It didn’t translate well on the field. Tebow performed so poorly in practices that he lost the confidence of Rex Ryan and the coaching staff. He was used sporadically throughout the season to very limited success. He ran a few successful fake punts as the punt protector but that was the extent of his achievements with the Jets. When Sanchez did get benched Tebow was passed over to start by Greg McElroy. Tebow responded by telling Rex Ryan that he wouldn’t be available to run the Wildcat plays that week. It was a disaster all around with Tebow at fault as well as the coaching staff. When the Jets finally cut Tebow after the 2013 Draft Rex Ryan was short and to the point in his comments.

“We have a great deal of respect for Tim Tebow,” coach Rex Ryan said. “Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we all had hoped.  Tim is an extremely hard worker, evident by the shape he came back in this offseason. We wish him the best moving forward.”

Sparano and Tebow are two of the main mistakes that Rex Ryan made. The team floundered to a 6-10 record and everything that could go wrong did. They lost Darrelle Revis to a season-ending ACL injury. They lost Santonio Holmes to a season-ending Plantar Fascitis injury. David Harris, Calvin Pace and Bart Scott had terrible years leaving the defense looking old and slow. Mark Sanchez regressed and committed 26 turnovers in his 15 games playing so poorly that Greg McElroy relieved him in 1 game and started for him in another. Ryan erred by maintaining his faith in his underperforming players, especially by not benching Sanchez sooner and going to McElroy (since neither he nor the team believed in Tebow).

Rex Ryan stopped being Rex Ryan in 2012. Gone completely was the boastful coach who believed in himself and his team replaced by a man that got bullied by the press, consistently made excuses for the team and did not hold the players accountable. He tried so hard to be a traditional coach that he forgot what made him successful. After the season Mike Tannenbaum was fired and John Idzik was brought aboard as the new General Manager. Rex Ryan was retained and given a chance to re-find the formula that made him a success in his first two and a half seasons.

Will Rex be able to figure things out in time to save his job? Is he the right man to lead the Jets through the rebuild? What will he have to do to prove himself to Idzik? We will see in the final part of this series, 2013 and beyond.

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