For three weeks now, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson has been paging his inner Robert Kraft in a series of moves that has united a fanbase and has seen billboards turned black. His bold thinking and willingness to learn from his past mistakes has shown the jaded fans of this team that his ownership is finally moving forward.
The past four seasons have seen the Jets without a playoff appearance and no one has taken more heat for that than Johnson, the owner who seems to be an easy target around these parts. It was Johnson who was blamed for the mega contracts given out prior to the 2010 season and it was Johnson who was blamed for that Tim Tebow trade three seasons ago. And it was Johnson who this past fall saw a movement that blamed him for the hiring of general manager John Idzik, as fans clamored for the Jets owner to sell the team.
But in recent weeks, Johnson has turned that ire and angst into pure gold with the hiring of general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles. Not that either was a big name hire, the sexy pick or even the popular pick.
Rather, it was how Johnson handled himself and conducted this process that is finally beginning to turn around the court of public opinion with regards to this owner. This week, the Jets will formally announce their new general manager and head coach and their names will dominate the headlines. But the story of Johnson and his growth as an owner is the more significant development this offseason for Jets fans.
For Johnson, who with his glasses and slight frame, is often seen walking around training camp with a straw hat on his head and dressed in a white shirt and khakis as if he was ready for the country club, always seemed a bit detached from the reality of this team. The Jets fanbase tends to have a blue collar approach to their support of this team and the billionaire Johnson always seemed to struggle to connect with those diehards. His sound-bites haven’t helped this perception as he often bristles at criticism rather than provide a relieving quote to the media.
Plainly, it doesn’t help that he doesn’t look like a “football guy.” He didn’t sound like a “football guy.” Instead, he seemed like the rich kid at the end of the lunch table who bought brownies for everyone seated around him to buy himself friends. The Jets were his ticket to popularity, many fans openly thought, and not his real passion.This was a toy for him, they mused, and he couldn’t care less about winning and losing.
Recent weeks, however, have shown someone dedicated to this team and to the fans. And also a man willing to learn from his mistakes. He may not admit to it publicly, but his actions speak loudly here.In firing Idzik, as well as the tougher choice to let go of head coach Rex Ryan, Johnson followed up these moves with clear-thought and decisive action. He brought on board two highly regarded NFL executives in Charlie Casserly and Ron Wolf, individuals who know the game and how to build winners. He then began a thorough search process to replace Idzik and Ryan, looking inside and outside the organization for names.
The search was thorough and far-flung, looking at the favorites and the relative unknowns. What it yielded no search firm could have found, the hiring of Maccagnan and Bowles being of a similar mindset to Casserly and Wolf. Both of the consultants are football guys and the two names hired by the Jets, not surprisingly, are football minds.
Johnson was beyond active in all of this. He let Casserly and Wolf come up with the list of names then he took the lead. He was present for every interview, sources tell Metro, and not a single candidate left before four hours had ticked away. Johnson asked the most questions and was the most direct, people inside that room say, and he was described as a “man on a mission.”
Unlike his previous hires, Johnson went with the names who had a track record in the game. He didn’t go with the bean counter, he didn’t hire the affable head coach who would become a fan favorite.Instead, he made a decision about wins and losses, not ticket sales and PSLs. You see, Johnson understood that if he builds a winner then the seats will sell themselves. There were no shortcuts. Not this time from Johnson.He couldn’t care less if the people hired weren’t the popular pick. They were the right pick, he felt, in order to win games.
No more Band-Aids for an organization that is mired in nearly five decades of suffering. Johnson made a decision to hire for tomorrow and to start building for that future today.It was a bold move for Johnson but one he should be credited for. He thought outside the box on both of these hires. Perhaps they won’t work and at some point, both will inevitably be fired. Such is the life in this dog-eat-dog league. But the Jets owner was willing to be bold and make a hire based not on a search firm but on the very game itself.
Johnson has reinvented himself this offseason, and it should pay dividends for this franchise and their all-too-loyal fans.