After Hess died in 1999, the Jets were sold for $635 million to Woody Johnson, heir of the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He has proved he knows as little about the game as Hess did. A September a headline in the New York Daily News called him “clueless,” one of the kinder descriptions of his football acumen.
This inept line of owners has resulted in a series of false starts for the Jets. Nearly every new coach hired over the years has brought with him the promise of a new day. Walt Michaels, after four seasons (1977-1980) without a winning record, took the Jets to a 10-5-1 record in 1980 before losing in the first round of the playoffs. One year later, Michaels was gone. In 1985, coached by Joe Walton, they were 11-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In Walton’s seven seasons he won just one playoff game. Pete Carroll grabbed a national championship with the University of Southern California and is currently having great success with the Seattle Seahawks, but when he came to New York in 1994 the best he could manage was 6-10. In 1995, Hess fired Carroll and announced he was hiring Rich Kotite because, “I want results now.” He got them, but not the kind he was looking for: The Jets were 4-28 in two seasons under Kotite.
In 1998 the Jets finally got a football man to head the team; Bill Parcells had won two Super Bowls with the Giants and in 1996 had coached the New England Patriots to the big game. Even Parcells could do no better in three seasons than a 29-19 with a 1-1 record in the postseason.
And so on. In 2009, with management once again impatient to win—Woody Johnson told the press, echoing Leon Hess, “I think our fans deserve a winner now” —Rex Ryan was hired to fill the head job. Rex had no head coaching experience but did have a great pedigree as the son of beloved NFL coach and one-time Jets defensive guru Buddy Ryan.
In 2009 and 2010, Rex went 20-12 and won four of six playoff games, losing the conference championships in both years in tough games. But in those losses the Jets showed enough heart for their fans to think that in this dawn the sun would surely rise. Since then, the Jets have won 19 and lost 24.
In the October 22 Wall Street Journal, Kevin Clark, in one of those judgments a sportswriter would rather forget, wrote that Ryan’s “bone-shattering defense” was “back atop the football world, having stopped the New England Patriots in overtime.” That proved to be yet another false start: The next week, the Jets gave up 402 yards to the Cincinnati Bengals in a 49-9 loss.
It was one of five times this year the Jets have followed a victory with a defeat. This week, according to USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin, the most reliable power ratings analyst, the Jets are the 30th-best team in the league, ahead of only the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jets defense, which is supposed to be their strength, has given up 287 points this season, making it 25th in the NFL; they have been outscored by 101 points, the second worst differential in the league.