Players support Rex, which means nothing

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Everybody loves Rex.

Day after day, testimonials are delivered from various precincts in the New York Jets' locker room. On Wednesday, they came from Antonio Cromartie, Calvin Pace, Sheldon Richardson and Santonio Holmes, who said he wants to ride off with Rex Ryan into the NFL sunset.

Ryan is a players' coach, a genuinely likeable man, so it's not surprising to hear so many players speak out on his behalf as he awaits his fate. How much will their support help his cause?

Not at all.

This isn't the NBA, folks. This isn't a league where a star player can get a coach hired or fired. In the NFL, the rich men in the owner's box make these decisions. If owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik believe the Jets will be better off in the long run without the popular Ryan, he's a goner.

It's a bottom-line business, and there will be a half-empty MetLife Stadium on Sunday as the Jets face the Cleveland Browns in a meaningless and unattractive game. This makes three straight seasons out of the playoffs, and it's hard to imagine Idzik -- joined with Ryan in a shotgun marriage -- inviting him back. Johnson, easily swayed, probably will side with his GM, forgetting about all those games Ryan won for him in 2009 and 2010.

The players' opinions don't matter. They only matter when the situation is toxic, like it was in 2000, when a player mutiny pushed Al Groh out the door. This is nothing like that.

If anything, the players like Ryan too much. Remember, this isn't a popularity contest. You think every player in the New England Patriots' locker room adores Bill Belichick? A prominent Jets player once told me he hated playing for Bill Parcells, but he reluctantly admitted that he played his best under Parcells.

"Rex is a keeper," Richardson said. "The guys love him. No matter what people speculate about him -- he might not be liked by other coaches in the league and other people -- but if he's on your side, you most definitely have a fighter."

Cromartie said it would be "a different defense" without Ryan, and Pace echoed that sentiment, saying, "I don't really want to envision that." They're loyal soldiers. They've made a lot of money playing for Ryan. They've won a lot of games, too.

On Wednesday, Ryan appeared uncomfortable answering questions about the future. When asked if quarterback Geno Smith would benefit from another season under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Ryan squirmed, saying he doesn't want to look beyond Sunday.

Ryan was all business in the team meeting, according to players. He expressed disappointment at being mathematically eliminated Monday night on Justin Tucker's 61-yard field goal ("A kick in the head," he told reporters), but Ryan quickly shifted back into Rex Mode. He talked about taking it out on the Browns and finishing strong, getting to 8-8. There was no dark cloud.

"If he's been told something or he kind of feels it, he's doing an incredible job of not letting the guys know," receiver David Nelson said. "There was no feeling on anxiety or tension of apprehension from him.

"From what I gather, he's ready to get ready for next year. If there's any kind of situation where he doesn't think he's going to be the man, he doesn't know and we don't know."

Richardson said he'd be "upset" if Ryan is fired, and he can't imagine why Idzik would make that move.

"With him and Idzik, their relationship is top-notch," the rookie defensive lineman said. "They're genuine. They're honest with each other. John is around all the time, so he sees how the team draws to [Ryan] and how much we respect him. I don't see [his ouster] happening."

Ryan has done an admirable job with this team, winning six games with a rebuilt defense and a talent-deprived offense. He hasn't won a championship, but he knows how to win. If it were up to the players, he'd be the landslide choice.

But this isn't a democracy. Only two votes count, and the results will be known in 12 days.