Delicious holiday-season subplots await in South Florida on Sunday when the Jets play the Dolphins in their finale — and possibly Rex Ryan’s final game as their head coach.
Rarely does a late-season game with no playoff implications carry the kind of compelling storylines for a team that this one does for the Jets.
Five years ago, when the Jets played their final regular-season game against the Dolphins and needed a win to remain alive in the playoff hunt, they lost, and head coach Eric Mangini was fired the next day.
That’s where Ryan’s NFL head coaching career was born.
A big reason Mangini was fired was related to the powerful influence irate Jets fans had on impressionable owner Woody Johnson, angry the team’s season ended so badly after an 8-3 start. There was a public outcry for Mangini’s ouster, and Johnson — at his core a fan first — reacted.
Five years later, in the case of Ryan, you have to wonder what kind of influence Jets fans will have on Johnson this time.
The fans have spoken. There has been overwhelming public support of Ryan.
The players have spoken. Their ardent support for Ryan has been loud and clear, consistent and unanimous.
Ryan has spoken. He has stated unequivocally he believes he’s the “right man for the job.’’
The media have spoken. Newspaper columns, radio time and Internet space has been devoted to weighing in on the strong job Ryan has done this season with this overachieving team with limited talent.
Asked on Tuesday if he and other players might feel compelled to speak directly to Idzik in support of Ryan, guard Willie Colon said: “I think enough has been said.’’
“Me and other guys have stepped out individually and made our comments,’’ Colon added. “Rex is our guy. We believe in him. It’s a business decision and as players all we can do is play. That’s not our call. Right now, our play on the field speaks more volumes than us just coming out talking.’’
The only persons of interest who have not spoken are the two that really matter: Johnson, who has deflected all questions about the future of his head coach, and rookie general manager John Idzik, who has been so silent since coming here we can’t be certain he even speaks to his family.
That makes the most fascinating subplot to this latest version of Jets-Dolphins the fact that it will finally begin to uncover the shroud of mystery that Idzik has created regarding Ryan and the direction of the franchise.
Should the Jets beat the Dolphins and finish 8-8 — two wins more than the Vegas preseason over/under of six — and Ryan is fired anyway, we know Idzik never had any intention of keeping him beyond this season regardless of results.
If this happens, we know Idzik, who took the job a year ago with the understanding that he had to keep Ryan at least for the 2013 season, planned to hire his own head coach (Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt, Lovie Smith?) all along once he finished (endured?) his one year with Ryan.
Johnson always has been smitten with Ryan, the man he made the face of the franchise five years ago, so it’s not likely he’s in a hurry to fire Ryan, whom he owes another $3 million for 2014. If Ryan is let go, we know Johnson has given Idzik full autonomy on all football decisions.
If Ryan is fired, don’t feel too sorry for him. He’s had a good run (two AFC Championship games) and made a lot of money and he will be hired five minutes after he’s fired (the Lions are a perfect fit for him if Jim Schwartz does not survive another playoff-less year).
If Ryan is fired, the only questions that will remain in his sizable wake will be whether he had earned the right to get extended for one more year and whether the replacement Idzik brings in truly is a better alternative to the continuity the organization could have kept intact had a change not been made.