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Eyes On The Assistants

You can be sure that New York Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum will be paying attention to the divisional playoffs. Not necessarily because he’s a football fan in search of the winter’s drama and excitement, but he’s got homework to do. The next Jets head coach is likely prowling the sidelines of one of these games. The Jets aren’t letting on their hand, but it appears that the top three candidates are New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, and Arizona Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm. The Jets are just one the teams to talk to Spags already, and Ryan and Grimm will sit down for a chat after their respective team’s season has ended.
Neither one has had coaching experience, similar to the last three Jets head coaching hires, Al Groh, Herm Edwards, and Eric Mangini, all of which were up and coming coordinators, each with their shares of success and heartbreak. If you go just by what you saw on the field this past weekend, Ryan has to look good right now. The Ravens defense knocked Chad Pennington off his mantle (that the sports media and most of New York put him on the previous week) something the Jets would have liked to see on December 28th at the Meadowlands. Yes, a lot of that has to do with Hall of Fame bound players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but it takes a coordinator like Ryan to bring the most out of his players. Maybe he can get a couple more years out of Shaun Ellis, keep Kris Jenkins refreshed throughout the full season, and see if Vernon Gholston can actually play. He won’t need to change much of his scheme, as the Jets have the 3-4 personnel already.
But the sexy pick that most of the Jets fans are salivating over is Spagnuolo. If his Giants defense can disrupt Donovan McNabb’s game, that stock will soar higher amongst the Gang Green faithful. The Jets defense was noticeably absent of a working pass rush, which could be fixed with Spag’s blitz heavy packages. He is also familiar with the pressure of coaching in New York, which if the last few weeks demonstrated, a coach’s relationship with the media and fans can be the difference in the support he gets from the organization. But he would likely change the defense back to a 4-3, which after last offseason’s spending spree may not work. Would players like Ellis, Calvin Pace, Eric Barton, and Bryan Thomas need to be cut to make this feasible (that may sound good from a talent perspective, but do they have the cap flexibility?) and the entire defense could be overhauled.
Grimm is an interesting candidate, the only one so far that is from the offensive side. His arrival could mean the departure of Brain Schottenheimer, which means whoever is the Jets quarterback next year will have a whole new offense to learn. He came with Ken Wisenhunt to the Cardinals after the Pittsburgh Steelers after they passed them both over for Bill Cowher’s old head coaching job. Grimm would probably bring a similar system that Cowher employed in Pittsburgh, relying heavily on the rushing game and having a quarterback who takes care of the ball and can make key plays late in the game. Don’t expect to see the vertical passing attack of the Cardinals, the Jets personnel doesn’t fit the system.
Should their teams win over the weekend, the drama will continue for at least another week. So Jets fans are (as usual) in a precarious position. Root for your next-head-coach of choice and you’re rooting for the Jets offseason search to continue for another week. The Jets need to have patience and pick the guy they think is right for the job, not just the first available guy.

Jason Levy

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