Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
MIAMI — Despite three straight seasons out of the playoffs, Rex Ryan was granted a reprieve and will return to the New York Jets in 2014.
Jets owner Woody Johnson made the announcement after Sunday’s 20-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Johnson said both he and general manager John Idzik broke the news to Ryan before pregame warmups.
After the game, Johnson, in a rare address to the team, told the players in the locker room that Ryan would be back, ending weeks of intense speculation. There was a huge roar, and Ryan was mobbed by several players.
Ryan was choked up, according to several Jets.
“I love being the head coach of the New York Jets, plain and simple,” Ryan said. “I never wanted to go out this way, another losing season or something like that.”
The team refused to comment on Ryan’s contract situation. He has one year remaining on the deal he reworked in 2010, worth about $3 million annually.
It would be unorthodox to have Ryan coach without an extension, which would make him a lame duck. But that scenario was broached during discussions, sources said.
“I’m not going to discuss it,” Ryan said. “I have a contract.”
The Jets finished 8-8 with Sunday’s win, but they exceeded expectations with a young roster devoid of Pro Bowl players. New York won three of its last four games and improved late in the season, especially under rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
Both Johnson and Idzik refused to say the Jets overachieved, although it was apparent they were pleased with the result.
It was widely assumed that Idzik, who replaced Mike Tannenbaum as general manager last January and was forced to keep Ryan, would hire his own coach after one year on the job. Idzik downplayed that notion, saying he didn’t need to be convinced to keep Ryan.
“I always made the assumption we were together from the beginning,” Idzik said. “I know there has been speculation through the season, but we always worked together.”
In a slip of the tongue, Idzik added: “He’s been tremendous to work for … I mean, with.”
Johnson praised the team’s 3-1 finish.
“A lot of it is due to our coach, Rex Ryan,” Johnson said. “It’s an amazing tribute to Rex and his staff.”
Much of Ryan’s staff remains in limbo, including at least seven assistants with expiring contracts. They have yet to be notified if they will be retained, a source said. That includes defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and special teams coach Ben Kotwica.
Ryan and Idzik are scheduled to address the media again Tuesday.
Ryan is 42-38 in five seasons, the second-highest winning percentage in Jets history. He also owns the franchise record with four postseason wins.
Despite having no prior relationship, Ryan and Idzik formed a solid working relationship. Ryan toned down his brash style to conform to Idzik’s buttoned-down approach. At midseason, Idzik referred to Ryan as “our leader.”
Idzik made that comment when the Jets were 5-4, one of the surprise teams in the NFL. They proceeded to lose three in a row and were eliminated from the playoffs in Week 15, intensifying the speculation about Ryan’s future.
In fact, Ryan referenced his uncertain status in a team meeting on the eve of last week’s win against the Cleveland Browns.
Ryan received overwhelming public support from the locker room, with players offering daily testimonials. After Sunday’s game in Miami, several players said they were glad that upper management decided in favor of Ryan.
“Personally, I think it’s the right decision,” offensive tackle Austin Howard said. “Rex has really started something. He’s had his image for this team, and it’s starting to come to fruition.”
Linebacker Calvin Pace, one of the longest-tenured players on the team, said the postgame celebration rivaled some of their biggest wins in recent years.
“It was up there with going to the AFC Championship Games, the joy everybody had,” Pace said. “Everyone genuinely wanted Rex back. He’s the right man for the job.”
Ryan tried to address the team, but tears welled up in his eyes, and he had to stop a couple of times, players said.
“Hey, I’m Irish,” he later said jokingly. “I’ll admit it, I cried at my own wedding. That was embarrassing.”
Johnson was always in favor of retaining Ryan. A month ago, Johnson said he was “pretty happy” with the direction of the franchise and wouldn’t base any major decisions simply on wins and losses.
The big question was Idzik. He said he couldn’t pinpoint an exact time when they reached a decision on Ryan’s fate, calling it “a feeling you get” throughout the season.
For all his bluster, Ryan still hasn’t delivered on his Day 1 promise. In his inaugural news conference in 2009, he predicted a Super Bowl. He came close, with back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons.
But Ryan wasn’t able to sustain the success, with his teams falling to 8-8, 6-10 and 8-8, respectively, in the last three seasons.
“We haven’t gone to the playoffs for three straight years, and that bothers me,” Ryan said.
Ryan became the first Jets coach since Walt Michaels in the late 1970s to survive three straight non-playoff seasons.
- Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
- Syracuse University graduate