Rebuilding a Franchise:
5. Herman Edwards begins Flirting with the Kansas City Chiefs
The year was 2005 and the Jets went into the season with huge expectations. This was the first team since the 1999 Jets that was expected to be one of the real possibilities to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Jets, who had lost a heartbreaker in the divisional round of the 2004 playoffs when their field goal kicker missed two potential game winners late in the 4th quarter, were expected to take that next step and have a chance to knock off the two time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The team made moves in the offseason designed to improve the team. They signed star CB Ty Law. They brought back WR Laveranues Coles. They drafted a new kicker. They already looked to have a good defense in place, led by young stud LB Jon Vilma, they had the NFL's leading rusher in Curtis Martin and one of the best offensive lines in the game. Medical reports said QB Chad Pennington was ready to go and so were the Jets.
It was apparent from week 1 that the team was going to bomb. The defense looked awful. Pennington quickly got hurt and was going for his second shoulder surgery in less than a year. Martin got injured and even before that looked every bit his age. The offensive line grew old in a hurry and then started dropping like flies. Edwards, who was never fully embraced by the Jets fan base and media due to some terrible coaching decisions through the years, saw the writing on the wall. The reports began to surface in late November that Edwards had sent out feelers to the Chiefs, who were coached by his good friend and coach with the Eagles Dick Vermeil. Edwards relationship with Vermeil and Chiefs GM Carl Peterson made him the logical choice to take over the Chiefs and make the transition easy for the team from Vermeil, who was going to retire at seasons end. The Chiefs had the type of team that Edwards liked to coach, complete with a safe game managing QB and young stud RB who could carry the ball 300 plus times a year. They were on the way to winning 10 games and a win now team, unlike the Jets who were about to go into a rebuilding phase. It was the perfect place for Edwards.
All that stood in Edwards way was the fact that he had two years remaining on his contract with the Jets. The Jets had stuck with Edwards for the previous five seasons and owner Woody Johnson had a tough decision to make. Edwards was Johnson's first real hire and a generally likeable guy, but Edwards really upset Woody with the way he went about the Chiefs job. He clearly bailed out on the Jets before the terrible season was finished yet denied it over and over both publicly and privately. When the Chiefs GM finally admitted that there was interest it was clear that Edwards had lied to the owner and the franchise. The final straw was Edwards deciding to then approach the Jets off a 4-12 season and ask for a raise and an extension to give him the job security he would be getting with the Chiefs as the Jets entered their rebuilding phase. This was a similar ploy that Edwards used in 2003 that worked on the novice owner who rewarded the coach with an extension despite a disappointing 6-10 record and numerous puzzling coaching decisions over his three year tenure.
This time it did not work. Johnson was infuriated. Here was a coach that told him he wasn't going anywhere and Johnson was put into a position of publicly supporting the coach and saying his future was with the Jets. Edwards made him look like a fool in January when it was clear what went on. He could have forced Edwards to honor the contract, but Edwards behavior made him understand the relationship could not be repaired and Edwards not counted on to lead the rebuilding effort. Edwards was allowed to negotiate a contract with the Chiefs and the Jets would receive compensation for letting him go to Kansas City.
Edwards leaving the team allowed the owner to change the course of action and shake up the whole team and front office. Most of the assistants with power were let go. GM Terry Bradway, the man who hired Edwards, was reassigned within the organization and replaced by his assistant and salary cap manager Mike Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum convinced Woody that the team needed a major overhaul, the type of overhaul that never would have occurred had Edwards and Bradway stayed in their positions of power. Veterans were being released or traded. Others were being forced to accept new contract terms to remain in New York. The organization would be run in a different manner than it had been since Bill Parcells had left the team in 2000.
Though there were clearly ups and downs with the team in the 6 years since the parting of ways with Edwards, that day that Edwards decided he wanted to leave to Kansas City was the day the organization began on the path to being a great team. The Jets have been to the playoffs 3 times since Edwards left, including two AFC Championship games. They have only had one losing season and have become one of the more popular teams in the NFL on a national basis. As for Herm? His win now team finished 9-7 and fluked their way into the playoffs in 2006 before completely falling apart. They won a total of 6 games in the next two years and all that job security Edwards wanted saw him get booted from the team after the 2-14 2008 season. He never returned to coaching. The Jets fans will always be grateful for that November day when he picked up the phone and called the Chiefs. It started the team on a path to greatness, one that never would have happened had Edwards remained in Jet green.