FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Woody Johnson decided to completely clean house.
The New York Jets owner fired coach Rex Ryan and General Manager John Idzik on Dec. 29, one day after one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
With the Jets (4-12) failing to make the postseason for the fourth straight season, Johnson chose to start fresh with a new coach and GM. He met with Ryan and Idzik after “extensive thought and reflection” and informed them they would not be returning.
“Getting the Jets back on track is my top priority,” Johnson said in a team statement, “and today’s decisions are important steps towards achieving our goals.”
Ryan was 50-52, including 4-2 in the postseason, in his six seasons with the Jets. His first few years were filled with guarantees, strong statements and two consecutive trips to the AFC title game. But, in the end, there were not enough wins to back up all the big talk.
“Over the years, Rex brought the Jets a bold confidence and a couple of great postseason runs, which all of us will remember,” Johnson said.
Idzik lasted just two seasons after replacing the fired Mike Tannenbaum in 2013. He was heavily criticized this year for questionable draft and free agency decisions.
Now, the Jets will be looking for a general manager and coach for the first time since Johnson promoted Tannenbaum and hired Eric Mangini in 2006.
Charley Casserly, a former NFL GM and current NFL Network analyst, and former NFL GM Ron Wolf are being hired by Johnson as consultants. Johnson called them “respected football experts” and they will assist him in making the new hires.
“We will consider all options to improve the Jets,” Johnson said.
Ryan was retained after last season despite an 8-8 finish, and the fact that he wasn’t Idzik’s hand-picked coach when the GM was hired.
It was an unusual union, widely criticized in NFL circles, since a condition set by Johnson during the interview process was that the new GM would have to keep Ryan as his coach.
The outgoing Ryan and tight-lipped Idzik made for an odd couple, but they worked through their personality differences to try to put a winning team on the field. Idzik signed Eric Decker, Michael Vick and Chris Johnson last off-season, but whiffed on a few others in his two seasons such as Mike Goodson and Dimitri Patterson.
His trade of cornerback Darrelle Revis when he was hired, and the team not actively pursuing him last off-season was a point of contention among fans, especially as the Jets struggled mightily in the secondary this season.
Idzik’s draft picks have also been widely criticized since only six of his 19 selections in his two years — Sheldon Richardson, Geno Smith, Oday Aboushi, Calvin Pryor, Jace Amaro and Trevor Reilly — have played regularly this season. Five are no longer even on the team.
The Jets won their season opener against Oakland, but then lost eight straight and Smith was benched after struggling mightily to start his second NFL season. A midseason trade for Percy Harvin came a bit too late as the team dropped out of the playoff picture.
Fans began to grow increasingly frustrated — with a lot of their criticism aimed at Idzik. The general manager’s midseason news conference in which he rambled at times during a 19-minute opening statement did little to win over disgruntled fans.
A few flew banners above the team’s practice facility, urging Johnson to fire the GM. Others started a website and received donations to put up billboards near MetLife Stadium and distribute yellow towels in hopes the Jets would make wholesale changes.
They got their wish.
Ryan’s time with the Jets was often as entertaining as his daily news conferences during his first few years. They became must-see events, complete with wisecracks, incessant praise for his team (particularly the defense) and grand promises for the franchise.
The moment he took the podium when he was introduced as coach in 2009, he cracked that with so many media there, he thought the President was behind him — and then intimated that his team would meet him someday soon as Super Bowl champions.
The brash approach was a refreshing change from the reticence of Mangini. It excited a Jets fan base hungry for someone to deliver a Lombardi Trophy hadn’t been won since Joe Namath made good on his guarantee in 1969.
Ryan, however, did come close, though, finishing a game away both in 2009 and 2010 with a young quarterback in Mark Sanchez, a dominant defense led by Revis and a handful of other stars including Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Antonio Cromartie.
But he couldn’t parlay that early success into a Super Bowl trip. There were plenty of distractions, with Ryan’s team during the first few years often labeled a “circus” by fans and media for the unending drama surrounding it.
But Ryan helped make the Jets a relevant franchise, one of the most talked-about teams in the NFL. Now, Johnson will try to make them a winner again — with a new coach and General Manager.
(DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer)