If Rex Ryan had any gumption he would wait until the eve of the New York Jets' first game then pack his white turtlenecks, his logoed sweater vests and his khaki game pants, drop them on the lawn of Jets owner Woody Johnson, douse the pile with gasoline and leave his flaming resignation crackling high into the night air. No one has done more to ruin Ryan's Jets life these last few months than the man who was supposed to be his benefactor.
Few narratives about the football freak show of this Jets summer point a finger at the person most responsible. In the rush to fire Ryan before the first kickoff scrapes the Meadowlands sky, everyone forgets it was Johnson who left Ryan lying prone and helpless in the first place. More befuddling than Ryan's behavior in recent days is what Johnson was thinking back in December when he fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum and chose to keep Ryan.
Lame duck coaches rarely match well with new general managers. The new boss arrives with a vision for the franchise and a list of his dream leaders. Nothing is worse than spending the next 11 months glaring with contempt at the leftover coach wondering how soon his office can be vacated and the search for his replacement will begin.
Johnson probably meant well in keeping Ryan. On the day he fired Tannenbaum, Johnson said: "I believe [Ryan] has the passion, the talent and the drive to successfully lead our team." He thought he was being fair, rewarding a coach who twice brought his team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. In fact, he couldn't have been crueler.
Such good intentions are always misguided. In 2010, Mike Holmgren did something similar to Ryan's predecessor Eric Mangini when Holmgren took over as president of the Cleveland Browns, inheriting Mangini as head coach. Holmgren and Mangini were not a philosophical match but Holmgren wanted to give Mangini a chance. As head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Holmgren had been treated poorly by team president Bob Whitsitt and was determined to be fair with Mangini.
It was a benevolent gesture. And it was a disaster for all involved. Mangini clashed with Holmgren's people. At season's end Holmgren fired Mangini anyway and the Browns, having lost a year of rebuilding, never built traction in Holmgren's era. Ultimately, Holmgren lost his own job of nearly three years when the team was sold.
Johnson had a responsibility to Ryan and his football team when he fired Tannenbaum. The decision to dump a general manager is also one to gut the team. There's no point in getting rid of the man in charge while leaving the underling in place. He sought the consul of a big corporate search firm who helped lead him to John Idzik, yet he saddled Idzik with Ryan and the lingering dismay of the previous two years.
This is how you get Idzik telling reporters on the eve of training camp that he will have a "pretty big role" in who the Jets pick as their starting quarterback – a job normally reserved for head coaches. This is how you cut Ryan's power, his influence, his respect in his own locker room. This is how you force him into panicked decisions like inserting the presumed starting quarterback Mark Sanchez into the fourth quarter of a preseason game.
Johnson might have thought he was doing Ryan a favor by keeping him around but all he has done is turn his coach into a tattooed piñata, whacked from all sides until whatever dignity he has left is lying on the floor. When the coach starts doing news conferences backward his time is up. Now the Jets are heading into the season with a starting quarterback broken by a bad Ryan decision, a backup who isn't ready and a coach who is talking to the walls while the cameras are running.
Which is why Ryan should walk away next week. Leaving the Jets on the cusp of the season would not be a career-ending move. He has always been a bright defensive mind, one who has sent countless men on ferocious scrambles at quarterbacks. Teams are always going to need Rex Ryan. The sooner he leaves the quicker he can rebuild his name, letting executives remember the man who took the Jets to two AFC championship games and not the one who sent Sanchez out to get hurt.
As long as Ryan takes advantage of Johnson's kindness he will sit on that stage as the smiling face of a disaster, staring at a room of shaking heads and clucking tongues. His best move is to do what Woody Johnson apparently couldn't. This isn't about passion, talent or drive. It's about a situation that never had a chance of working.
And an owner who didn't give Rex Ryan the one thing he needed the most: a chance to leave as a man and not the pitiful clown of a circus gone to seed.