Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday's Musings on Sports - Rex Survives Black Monday- Right Place, Right Time?

As the Jets season drew to a close, there was rampant speculation about whether Rex Ryan would keep his job as Head Coach of the New York Jets. In truth, the controversy did not apply solely to Rex, as many coaches whose teams did not make the playoffs were faced with the spectre of being fired on "Black Monday."

In what lately has become a trend, the Monday after the end of the regular NFL season has become a day when coaches and occasionally GMs are terminated by dissatisfied owners. This year, one team (the Cleveland Browns) did not even wait until Monday as they released first year Head Coach Rob Chudzinksi on Sunday evening. As today wore on, four other teams terminated their head coaches - the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. And the day is not over yet...

Any time that a team has a losing season and particularly when the team has multiple losing seasons in a row, the head coach's job is in jeopardy. In Rex's case, the Jets had winning seasons and advanced to the AFC Championship game in each of his first two years. Then in 2011, Mark Sanchez drove the team into the ground in his final three games, throwing for a combined 5 TDs and 500 yds, but also losing two fumbles and throwing seven INTs.

The following year, Sanchez was a turnover machine, throwing for 13 TDs, but also giving the ball to the other team twenty six teams (18 INTs and 8 fumbles). Granted, he had less talent around him, but his epic failures and the creation of a new word in the lexicon after he collided with Brandon Moore's posterior, doomed the team.

This year, the Jets had the least collective offensive talent of Rex's career. However, with a stout defense and a new Offensive Coordinator, the Jets were 5-4 and looking at a possible playoff spot after nine games. But the Jets played poorly in getting blown out in their first three games after the bye week and rookie starting QB Geno Smith was benched in the second half of two of the games.

But a funny thing happened after Geno was removed in the team's first game against the Miami Dolphins- Geno's play started to improve. Although the Jets did not make the playoffs, Geno started making better decisions with the football and severely curtailed his turnovers. During this stretch, the Jets went 3-1 and their one loss was by ten points to the #2 seed in the NFC - the Carolina Panthers.

When NY Jets owner Woody Johnson announced in the Jets locker room after yesterday's win in Miami that Rex would be returning, the players cheered loudly. This was not a forced reaction -- the players really do like playing for him and would run through a wall if he asked them to. Now, a coach should not be retained solely because his players like him, no more then a CEO should be kept on at a company which is hemorrhaging money simply because  the staff adores him. But I wonder to myself, was Rex kept on because of the job he did with an admittedly poor talent base, or because the Jets braintrust knew that there was no one better on the market who could fill his position?

I can't imagine that the Jets will ever publicly answer my question, but the query can be asked in many forms. Take for example the King of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah. When Jonah finally arrives at Nineveh, he tells the King that Hashem has decreed that the city will be destroyed if they do not repent. While most rulers would dismiss this as the rantings of a lunatic, the King of Nineveh took Jonah seriously, and he and the people of Nineveh repented. Why did the King of Nineveh listen to Jonah and change his ways and those of his whole land? 

The answer lies in the Medrash which teaches that the King of Nineveh had a previously job - he was Pharaoh who fled Egypt after the Egyptian army was drowned at Yam Suf. When faced with the real possibility/probability of swift and real punishment, the King listened to Jonah and the land was saved. 

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