To say the New York Jets are a mess these days would be a massive understatement. Their season has been in turmoil for a while now, and the Thanksgiving night massacre at the hands of the New England Patriots has basically put an end to any hope, false or real, that the team had of making the playoffs. There does not seem to be any hint of accountability with the franchise, Tim Tebow has been mishandled every which way, the locker room has been pointing fingers with players throwing each other under the bus for two straight seasons now and there will be consecutive disappointing years without any postseason -- will all of these negatives signal the end of Rex Ryan?
Mike Tannenbaum would most likely be the first to take a bullet for this team's failures, but if a new GM is hired, he would probably want to bring in his own coach, which could mean Ryan leaving as well. Or will those two survive, with wholesale player personnel changes the solution to turning the organization around? If this is the end for Ryan, though, his downward spiral now has a signature play that will never be forgotten, which is, of course, Mark Sanchez crashing into Brandon Moore's backside, resulting in a fumble and Patriots touchdown.
That play and this season would fit right in with the coaching goodbyes in Jets history, though. Weeb Ewbank was able to retire before getting canned, going out a hero, five years after the team's one and only Super Bowl title. A few others, like Joe Walton, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini, were let go in routine manner. But there are a number of other Jet coaches who left under odd and bizarre circumstances, some ending really, really badly and others of the "you can't make this up" variety.
The zaniness began with the very first coach in franchise history, Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh. After leading the Titans to 7-7 records in their first two seasons, Baugh still had one more year left on his contract, at $20,000. Mercurial and cash-strapped owner Harry Wismer wanted to let Baugh go, but he didn't want to pay him either. Wismer decided to demote Baugh to kicking coach without informing Baugh (the coach learned about it by reading it in the newspaper), and Wismer also moved training camp without telling Baugh. Baugh discovered the new location through his players, showed up on time and happily stayed out of new coach Bulldog Turner's way while collecting his paycheck. Once Wismer realized Baugh wouldn't storm off and quit, the two worked out an agreement wherein Baugh would receive monthly installments and stay on with the team as a consultant. Baugh only received part of his money but never procured the whole twenty grand. Wismer sold the team at the end of the '62 season and died a few years later.
In 1976, Lou Holtz, fresh from North Carolina State, signed a five-year contract with the Jets, but wouldn't last a full season. The wisecracking coach attempted to install a rah-rah collegiate atmosphere to the Jets, and even penned a team fight song ("Win the game, fight like men, we're together, win or lose, New York Jets go rolling along"). Holtz was a hard worker, who even at times slept in his office, but pro football was not for him. Four days before the final game (with the Jets having a 3-10 record), Holtz resigned to take the University of Arkansas coaching job. Director of Player Personnel Mike Holovak coached the last game of the season. Holtz later said, "The people in New York were great to me. The only thing wrong with that whole situation was me." And he famously stated, "God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach in the pros."
Holtz's successor, Walt Michaels, left the team under mysterious circumstances after six years at the helm of the Jets. After adding pieces to the roster for four seasons, the Jets finally qualified for the postseason in 1981 and again in '82, for the first times since the team's heyday of 1968 and '69. In '82, Gang Green made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, but fell, 14-0, to the Miami Dolphins in the infamous Mud Bowl. The field conditions incensed the Jets, and Michaels blamed Don Shula for the muck that passed as a football field. Soon after that game, Michaels either resigned or he was fired, but it was all cloak and dagger stuff. At any rate, the Jets had just finished their finest season since their Super Bowl year and now their coach was gone.
In the following decade, Pete Carroll was one and done with the Jets. They got out to a 6-5 start, but then Dan Marino pulled the "clock play," the Jets lost the game and they never recovered, going winless the rest of the season, and Carroll was fired. Will Sanchez's head-butt fumble turn out to be Ryan's fake spike?
The Jets' answer to Carroll's firing came in the name of Rich Kotite. Owner Leon Hess said on the day of his hiring, "I'm 80 years old. I want results now." Well, he would have to wait. Kotite's first game as coach of the Jets was a 52-14 loss to the Dolphins. And it would never really get better for the genial yet over-his-head coach. The Jets went 3-13 in his first season, and then 1-15 the next year. Kotite resigned before the final game of the '96 season, but, unlike Holtz, he stuck around for the game (another loss to Miami). Kotite may have been the worst coach in team history, but he did not go out a bitter man. "I've been very fortunate. I'm the only guy who came out of my college [Wagner] who ever played in the NFL. I had two opportunities as a head coach. I'm a very lucky guy, I really am."
And then there's Bill Belichick. After Parcells cleaned up Kotite's mess, spending three years as coach of the Jets, he kicked himself upstairs with Belichick in place as his successor. All seemed normal on the morning of Belichick's press conference, as he met with his assistant coaches at 10:30. But just before 2 o'clock, while walking to the podium, he handed team president Steve Gutman a handwritten note that began, "Due to various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team's new ownership, I have decided to resign as HC of the NY Jets." Leon Hess had recently passed away, and Belichick apparently used that as his excuse to hightail it up to New England. After listening to Belichick ramble on at his introduction/resignation press conference, Gutman stated, "I'm not a psychologist, but I think I just listened for an hour to a person who is in some turmoil and deserves our understanding and our consideration."
It is highly unlikely that Woody Johnson will move Jets training camp to an undisclosed location in the hopes that Rex Ryan won't show up, nor will Ryan quit before the season ends or resign as HC of the NY Jets, but one thing is almost a certainty -- his tenure with the team will end badly (and maybe even bizarrely), as those things most always do. Especially with the Jets.