Feature Image: Getty Images
Entering 2013, the Jets were greeted by lowly, league-wide expectations, grouping the team amongst the weakest in the NFL. Their win over Miami in the final game of the season was assumed a moral victory — mainly in the minds of those outside the walls of Florham Park — for a Jets season that never quite materialized.
Prior to the game, Jets Owner Woody Johnson, informed Ryan that the organization elected to extend his contract through 2014. His job was safe — and he knew it — but his team did not.
The Jets took to the field that December day in South Florida with purpose. To the players, this wasn’t about moral victories: they were playing for their coach; they were playing for his job, and no team, not even a desperate one on the brink of a playoff birth, would stand in their way.
After the game, Woody Johnson broke the news to the locker room. Unable to finish his sentence, the team exploded, rallying around Coach Ryan, as they learned their skipper would be back with the team next season.
“You know who wears all those traits on his sleeve, for everyone to see, every single day? This man right here. This is your coach! This is your coach!” GM, John Idzik, declared with conviction.
In that moment, as he watched his boss offer up validation to the entire room, Rex became overrun by emotion, visibly expressing the deep passion he had for his team and the game.
Beyond the Warm Feelings Lies Aptitude
Rex Ryan teams are always schematically sound on defense, regularly cracking the top ten, if not five, on that side of the ball. But in 2013, the Jets were not a top 10 defense, no matter how you slice it.
A hampering injury to their best defensive back, Antonio Cromartie, and inexperience all over the field, left Rex and the Jets in a vulnerable position personnel wise.
The team was plagued by turnovers, a horrendous receiving corps, a defense who constantly saw a short field, with a secondary that was getting passed on like bruised fruit at the supermarket.
It’s rather remarkable the Jets locked up eight wins last season, matching or besting teams with greater talent — whom had comparable defensive seasons, statistically.
A better way to gauge a teams defensive efficiency is to account for ‘yards against’ and ‘points against’, rather than yards alone. Of course there are other variables, but a mean of the two paints a clearer picture.
This would put all six team’s defenses on the same tier — slightly above the middle of the pack.
And I need not go too far into each team’s offensive talent. Big Ben and Emmanuel Sanders; Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith; Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
The next number that should jump out, if it hasn’t already, is turnover differential. Last season, the Jets turned the ball over 29 times, while only taking it away 15. That ranked them 24th in giveaways and 31st in takeaways, with a net -14 differential (30th).
These kind of numbers cripple teams, making it close to impossible to compete week-to-week in the NFL. While a good part of this falls on Geno, the Jets secondary didn’t give him a fighting chance, only providing 15 additional possessions all year.
In the midst of the season, growing assumably impatient, Ryan flashed his coaching acuity by jumping all over the Texan’s release of free safety Ed Reed. The Jets secondary was getting torched all season by intermediate and deep passes, and Rex Ryan couldn’t sit back any longer.
He reunited with the knowledgable, future Hall of Famer he’d coached for so many years in Baltimore. After a few rough weeks getting back into the flow of Ryan’s scheme, the Jets followed a three-game losing skid to finish off the season strong, winning three of four.
During this final quarter, Ryan featured Reed as their last leg of defense. He’d pull-in three interceptions — tying Milliner and Cromartie for the team lead in just seven games — and help the unit hold quarterbacks to 225 yards per game, bettering the average of their first 12 games by about 30 yards.
Yet another season where Rex Ryan’s coaching prowess allowed him to do more with less.
* * *
The most intelligent and astute definition of success I’ve encountered was of UCLA’s legendary coach, John Wooden. Coach Wooden is regarded as the greatest coach in the history of American sports. He led the UCLA Bruins basketball teams during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Over the span of his career, Coach Wooden’s teams accomplished feats never to be eclipsed, including 10 National Championships. More impressive than even this record were his character and teachings.
John Wooden defined success as ‘piece of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable’.
Though Ryan’s brash demeanor and style of coaching would probably have led to additional prayers at night for Coach Wooden, Wooden would have had great respect for Rex. Because Rex got out effort. His teams go to battle for him.
When it all boils down, you only have control of your effort. The results will be what they should; they may not be what you want, but focusing on maximizing ‘effort’ will allow a team to reach success.