Blood in the Water: How the Media Will Fire Rex

Corey Griffin , TheJetsBlog.com

“Does Rex Ryan deserve to be fired?”

It’s a question that’s been circling in hushed tones since last season’s shameful ending and began to pick up steam following losses to Miami and Seattle. After the “No Thanksgiving Massacre,” the MSM has officially kicked the “Rex must go” rhetoric into high gear, including noted Jets fan Mike Greenberg and, in more decisive tones, ESPNNY columnist Ian O’Connor.

He wasn’t born to be an NFL head coach any more than his father Buddy was born to be an NFL head coach, and nobody’s taking any pleasure in making that claim. Ryan comes across as good people, and he makes most weekdays spent in his company a little less predictable and a lot more fun.

But he admitted losing control of his team and locker room in 2011, and he no longer needs to make that admission in 2012. His Jets said it all for him when they spotted the Patriots 35 second-quarter points, allowed them to score 21 of those points in 52 unforgettable seconds, and all but put Rich Kotite’s worst hours to shame.

The allusions to Rex’s father, the infamously foul-tempered Buddy Ryan, have followed Rex since he was a defensive coordinator in Baltimore. It’s hard to escape the shadow of a man that once punched his own coordinator on the sidelines. But sitting in the stands Thursday, I didn’t see a team that quit on its head coach. I saw a poorly-constructed, undisciplined football team make mistake after mistake after mistake. To say that doesn’t fall on Rex and his coordinators would be foolhardy, but it’s equally short-sighted to act like this is the same Eric Mangini’s final year, when the team so blatantly quit on a coach whose best attribute was always getting his team to play for him.

Rex has been a media target since the day he walked in the door in Florham Park. With his brash introduction and continued braggadocio, he was unlike any coach in the NFL today, and, really, ever. His boastful personality met with a blood-thirsty media in the dawn of social media and it created a mix unlike anything we’ve seen before. His predictions went viral even when they weren’t really guarantees — and he absolutely had something to do with it. He and Woody Johnson wanted to reshape the face of the franchise and they did just that. If Tom Coughlin is a wet blanket, Rex is a bucket of ice water on someone sleeping off a three-day bender. Rex was loud and the media ran with everything he said. But most importantly for those first two years, the Jets won, which made what the media ran with mostly positive and fawning over this coach who wasn’t afraid to say what he felt and guarantee a game or a Super Bowl he thought he could win. It wasn’t a different sentiment than the way most NFL coaches do when they enter every NFL season. Rex was different because there was no filter.

This season, the filter was obvious and self-admitted. Rex acknowledged he’d lost the team last year and part of himself, too, in all of the success and loud talking. As the season has gone on, he’s appeared more docile, hesitant, and sadly, predictable. He engages in coachspeak, which he always did before but it’s more believable when you’re 9-2 versus 4-7. Outside of Tim Tebow, the issue that riles the media and fans alike is Rex’s insistence on sticking by Mark Sanchez by using one of the most cliched coachspeak answers in the history of organized sports, “He gives us the best chance to win.”

Sadly, lost in the fan calls for Tebow or Greg McElroy, is the truth that however incapable he may be of being even an average NFL quarterback for two straight weeks, Sanchez does give the Jets the best chance to win. Maybe there would be an argument if Tebow were completely healthy or McElroy really was the developmental prospect a segment of Jets fandom wants him to be. The truth, though, is for either of those ideas to work, the Jets would need a far better starting unit on the other side of the ball to make up for Tebow’s and McElroy’s shortcomings.

That is to say nothing of Rex’s handling of his infamous backup quarterback. The Tebow situation may very well go down as the thing that killed Rex Ryan in New York, and regardless of the PR sell he’s been told to spew, Rex had no interest in bringing Tebow to New York. None. It’s been a running thread all season. You don’t dismiss something on game day that you spent all offseason hyping and pining over unless you were put in a precarious situation by a front office that kowtowed to its owner’s desires for ticket sales and PR, something Rex used to be mainly responsible for selling. But it’s hard to sell those things when you don’t win and Woody doesn’t take losing lightly. It’s why Mike Tannenbaum will likely be reassigned on Black Monday and it’s part of the reason Rex may be unemployed.

But in the end, it all comes down to the reason Rex was brought to New York — to change the perceived face of the franchise. The problem is, perception is controlled by those that control information, and despite the advent of social media, access is key to gathering information. Joe Jets Fan doesn’t have the shiny media card to enter Florham Park 97 percent of the year, so they have to rely on the quotes filtering out of camp and the unsourced reports that have become commonplace in the Rex Ryan Era. As much as fans want to believe they have more say in this Twitter age, The MSM (ESPN, NY papers, debate shows) still shapes the sports landscape. I think of an ESPN exec telling Deadspin they don’t cover hockey because it doesn’t rate in the national conversation. The exec left out that ESPN is the national conversation. It’s the same in football. When all you hear is about how much Rex guarantees or how much the Jets talk, eventually the nature of the national conversation will change. People become sick of hearing about it in Nebraska and California and when you suddenly add the largest elephant in the NFL room (Tebow) to the discussion, it becomes overload. You get SportsCenter spending a week at Jets camp and the stage is set for Rex’s greatest triumph or greatest failure.

If Rex goes down at the end of the season, it will be partly his fault. No coach in the NFL gets fired without having some blame and there’s plenty to go around — from sticking with an aging linebacker corps to being foolish enough to think ground and pound can work in today’s NFL without an very strong offensive line and running back corps. But to ignore the media’s impact on this team and particularly this coach would be naive. In New York, if the media can’t smell blood in the water, they’ll gut a fish to create some, and they’ve done that. They’ve partially neutered the man they once praised for giving them quotes to sell their papers. Now, he doesn’t dare offer such phrases because he worries about them being held against him. Rex is no fool. He’s been around the NFL for his entire life and he saw how the media’s perception of his father helped lead to Buddy Ryan’s ouster from the entire league. He knows the next guarantee or headline-grabbing personnel move (See: benching Mark Sanchez) would accelerate his dismissal. So he’s content to remain quiet, hope Woody cleans out the front office and he gets to enter a do-or-die 2013 season with a QB competition, a better running back, depth on the offensive line, a healthy Darrelle Revis and a pass-rusher. But that only happens if Woody ignores the media’s chants for the head coach’s blood and gives this franchise something it has never had in nearly 50 years of existence: continuity.