The NFL owns January. It's when the business end of things - the play-offs - dominates headlines and bylines as the most lucrative professional sports league in the world whittles the field down to two teams who advance to the much-ballyhooed Super Bowl. Of course, they do graciously allow the college boys an opportunity to crown a national champion on the first Monday of the month, but other than that the NFL's fingerprints are all over January. And that's why on the last day of December the league does it's annual housecleaning.
This year no less than seven head coaches and five general managers were unceremoniously relieved of their duties on December 31. Some, like the Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid and the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith, have previously led their teams to the Super Bowl. The Bears actually won a respectable 10 games while losing six this season but it wasn't enough to save Smith. Far more curious though than those who lost their jobs are those who kept theirs. The most intriguing by far was New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, particularly considering the team did fire GM Mike Tannenbaum. In four years as head coach, Ryan has established himself as the premier blowhard of the NFL, if not all of sports. The man has absolutely no brake mechanism on his mouth and while his unimpeded bluster is kind of refreshing in the robotic world of NFL coaches, it can rub some folks the wrong way.
Before coaching a single NFL game, Ryan told reporters at his first training camp what he thought of division rivals the New England Patriots and their coaching genius, a man who had already won three Super Bowls. "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings," he said. "I came here to win. I'm certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."
In his first year as a head coach he did just that, beating the Patriots in the play-offs. Tipping the scales at a portly 155kg, a larger than life legend was born and a mouth was unleashed. Even his players began to adopt his swagger and it's important to remember that before Ryan arrived the Jets were arguably the most insignificant team in New York City. While the New York Giants stockpiled titles, the Jets stockpiled mediocrity. When Ryan arrived, he was a breath of hot air and refused to play second fiddle to the Giants. In his first two seasons, he led the team to within a game of the Super Bowl. Suddenly, the Jets were garnering national headlines and before Ryan's third season he would tell one and all that the Jets would not be denied.
But the 2011 season would be an unmitigated and humbling disaster with the Jets finishing 8-8 and missing the play-offs as the team disintegrated into a messy fit of acrimony that, not coincidentally, enraptured the rabid tabloids of Gotham. The media could not get enough of "team dysfunctional", as they called them. Nothing though could prepare the lusting mob for the 2012 season when, in a particularly mystifying move, the Jets acquired the most sensationalised presence in American sports, quarterback Tim Tebow, and announced that they would use him more as a running back than quarterback and that incumbent QB Mark Sanchez' job was safe. Phew! Not surprisingly, this season was a non-stop circus; Sanchez was horrible, Tebow was bypassed, Ryan was confused and the Jets finished a miserable 6-10. The only people happy were the media, who gleefully perpetuated the daily drama with a flurry of anonymous backbiting quotes from players and team officials.
On the day Tannenbaum was fired, Jets owner Woody Johnson sent out a five-paragraph press release to announce it. There was no press conference, no follow up questions and no comment from Ryan. When word got out that Ryan was in the Bahamas on a short vacation instead of answering their questions, the media went berserk. He was vilified and called a coward now running scared of notebooks and microphones. Why the nerve, the absolute gall, of our meal ticket, they cried. But it's all about preservation now and with one year remaining on Ryan's contract and a new GM coming aboard that he must answer to, the loosest of cannons will be tightening up considerably - much to the chagrin of the New York media mob. Still if there is blame to be placed for the conspiracy of silence, the media would do well to look in the mirror. Just as they played an integral role in creating the circus known as the Jets, so too are they an integral part in the dismantling of it.