Jets general manager John Idzik spent his first moments in the team’s facility last Thursday morning, but his journey to the Jets began as a 15-year-old, running on the field after training camp sessions in Hempstead, N.Y.
John J. Idzik, the father of the Jets general manager, had a career that spanned four decades and included a stop with the Jets as offensive coordinator from 1976-79. His son remembers that time well.
“I treasure those times. Not only for observing my dad in different environments and how he worked, but more importantly he taught me life lessons that extend well beyond football. I think you get a sense from me that family, cohesion and teamwork are at my core. They’re at the core of the New York Jets,” Idzik said. “That’s been my experience in the league, too. Whenever you can build a cohesive unit, it’s trustworthy and they’re dedicated to a common cause, to each other.”
His father’s life took him to Ottawa of the Canadian Football League and college stints at Detroit and Tulane before the NFL came calling. One man who remembers Idzik’s father well is legendary Jets wide receiver Wesley Walker, who made the 1978 Pro Bowl in the elder Idzik’s offense.
Speaking to his coordinator after practice, Walker pitched the notion that since he could read the defense, no matter what it was, he should have the option to run his own route based off what he saw the defense showing. It was a bold and unconventional request.
“They took this idea from me from practice and put it into the game plan in a game against Houston. When you have players who could play and understand the game, he was willing to do that and listen. I think I had like 100 yards in that game by the second quarter,” Walker said. “He was willing to listen and willing to see what was in his players.
“Some coaches and coordinators are so rigid that they come in and it is their system and only their system. Sometimes they don’t see and adjust to the talent they have,” Walker said. “John [J.] Idzik is not one of those men. He was always looking to maximize what was around him.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. On Thursday as Idzik stood behind the podium for his introductory press conference, he spoke about a decision-making process that would be a “collaborative effort.” Walker called the father of the new Jets general manager “open and approachable” even as he held control over his offense.
Others remember a man always ready and willing to share some insight. Connie Carberg, the NFL’s first female scout, would often talk to Idzik as part of her duties with the Jets.
“[He was] a quiet man who I remember just constantly watching films — all football but a friendly smile and willing to answer any football questions I had in my scouting,” Carberg said.
The words that those who knew the elder Idzik use to describe him include “integrity” and “honest,” marks of someone who made an impact on and off the football field.
“[He] made me better,” Walker said. “I can’t say that about every coach. Under some I regressed. Under Idzik, I got better and improved.”
Idzik is 85 years old and living in Pennsylvania. On Thursday, during his introduction to the media, his son paused to congratulate his parents on their 60th wedding anniversary, citing their values in his life — values he hopes to instill in a Jets organization that has endured its fair share of bad press the past few years.
Much like Jets head coach Rex Ryan, whose father is former head coach Buddy Ryan, Idzik the son has grown up around the sport of football. His experience is broad and deep as he’s evaluated players, negotiated contracts, managed a salary cap and administered a team. The sport has been in his blood much of his life and now he’s coming home to a place that was integral during his teenage years.
“The people in the building are going to feel who you are. It’s more that than where your roots are from family-wise. That said, yes, I had a tremendous advantage. As I said, before grade school I was going to NFL training camps,” Idzik said. “I may be a little bit biased here, but my dad was a heck of a coach. To be able to sit in camps with him, sit alongside with him in the coach’s booth [and] grow up around that [was] a tremendous advantage for me. But I think ultimately it’s how you handle yourself in your job [and] how you relate to your people in the building. That’s your credibility.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for all your offseason news.