What Are We Missing? Leadership.
Leadership. It is something every team needs. Every team needs someone on the field to get a team fired up. To pick them up when things go down. Indianapolis has it with Peyton Manning. Baltimore has it with Ray Lewis. The Giants have it with Antonio Pierce. Almost every team has it in the playoffs. That one player with some flair and personality- that someone that the team seems to rally around. Matt Ryan. Donovan McNabb. Joey Porter. Chad Pennington. Albert Haynesworth. Phillip Rivers. Ben Roethlisberger. When people look at the Dallas Cowboys failure this year, there is one consistent bullet point that comes up---lack of leadership. Lack of leadership from the coach and lack of leadership from any player on the team. Lost in all of the Eric Mangini bashing is the fact that the Jets suffer from that same trait, a trait they must fix in 2009.
As you watched from the seats at the Meadowlands on Sunday you saw a Dolphin team come running out of the tunnel looking like a pack of crazed dogs ready to attack. The Jets slowly walked out of the tunnel looking dead to the world. Before kickoff Pennington, with his little rally towel in hand, ran into the special teams huddle gave them a pep talk and started bumping chests and slapping guys to get them fired up. It’s the same basic scene that we saw from him in 2002. Meanwhile our special teams huddled with the coach while guys sat on the sidelines or played catch. It was a stark contrast between the two teams, only made worse by the Brett Favre “pep talk” shown on TV.
Maybe some of the blame falls on Mangini. The feeling was he never let players develop their own identity on the field. He made the team into lifeless robots. Maybe he was part of the problem, but when you watch the Jets play you feel that the problem is deeper than that. The Jets are a mentally soft team. When you punch them in the mouth they don’t get back up. That is not only the fault of the coach. When the offense was held without a touchdown early they completely gave up week in and out. When the defense gave up a big run they packed it in for the rest of the day. When Baltimore fell behind Jacksonville 7-3 there was no panic in the Ravens. They were angry and mad and they came back and blasted the Jaguars 24-0 the rest of the game. What would the Jets have done in that same spot? They would have lost 17-6.
Kerry Rhodes was on WFAN today and made a strange comment about what the team needs in their next head coach. Rhodes basically said that this is a team of winners. A team of veterans who have been to the playoffs before and know how to dial it up when they need to. He would like a coach that isn’t going to come in there yelling, but a coach that will have fun with this group and leave it like it is because they don’t need that extra push to get moving. I like Rhodes, but those comments show how lost the team really is. If they had a team that could “dial it up” how can you explain 4 losses down the stretch of the season. How do you explain a team that looked dead in at least 3 games if the team had the pride in itself to get motivated to play football? You can not.
The Jets need a coach that is going to get on these players and force someone to stand out and become a leader on the field. You need a player that is going to get in the face of his teammates when he screws something up. Someone who stands up and takes responsibility for the team when things going badly. You need a player that does those extra things every Sunday that makes a guy not having his best game take notice and try that much harder.
Do the Jets have that person on the team? I’m not sure. Offensively it does not look like it. Favre is more of a figure than a leader. If the team grew close to him maybe they would want to win one for him where they could rally around him, but he isn‘t going to pick them up. Mangold and Faneca both have potential the same way Kevin Mawae was the leader of the Jets for many years. Wide receivers and defensive backs are rarely leaders. Pace and Thomas most definitely are not leaders. Ellis has never been one nor is Coleman. Jenkins was known to be a leader in Carolina so maybe he can fit the bill here if his new coach gives him added responsibility that he is willing to take.
Whomever the Jets install as the new coach has to give some emotion to the team and find a leader on the field. He has to be able to fire the team up in the locker room and then have his general that does it on gameday on the field. You can’t have a Wade Phillips “its all on me” type running this group of players. Rhodes already summed up what will happen if you do that. These guys think they are better than they really are and will just run all over that kind of coach. If those leaders are not on this team the Jets need to make that a top priority in the draft when they select someone with the 17th pick. They need to look at the inside linebackers, quarterback, and defensive ends and find someone who you see not just that special talent in, but that intangible quality where you see him being the captain of the team that the players rally around for the next 10 years. Match that with the right head coach and the Jets might be able to permanently right the ship that has been sinking since 2004.