FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Woody Johnson fired a couple of senior employees who did not have a workable plan before stepping to the microphone and revealing he does not have one, either. This was not exactly an upset on Monday, bloody Monday in the NFL, because the owner of the New York Jets often operates his franchise as if he's a kid drawing up plays in the schoolyard dirt.
Johnny, you go long, and Jimmy, you go short. I'll just run around and hit whoever's open.
Johnson had to fire his longtime coach, Rex Ryan, and his not-so-longtime general manager, John Idzik, just as he had to admit it was a bad idea to force Ryan on the new guy a couple years ago. In that context, Johnson scored a few points in a news conference that wasn't nearly as embarrassing as Idzik's with the Jets at 1-7.
The owner admitted he should have spent some of those millions available under the salary cap, admitted he should have hired a GM with at least some experience picking players and admitted this obvious big-picture truth: The disastrous state of the Jets is all his fault.
"Well, ultimately, I get all the blame," Johnson said. "Yeah, I do. To the extent of who's to blame, sure, I have to get a lot better."
Perhaps if Johnson were being completely honest with himself, he would have followed the lead of fellow sports baron John Henry, who took the occasion of Theo Epstein's temporary resignation as his GM in 2005 to stand before the assembled media and concede, "Maybe I'm not fit to be the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox."
Henry was only a year removed from a ghost-busting World Series title, and yet he wondered aloud how he could let a bright light such as Epstein slip away. (The boy wonder returned a few months later.) Woody Johnson? He's not a baby step closer to a ticker-tape parade than Rich Kotite was in the really bad old days, and yet the Jets owner sold himself as part of the solution to the problems he created.
This is where Johnson's appearance got downright frightening for Jets fans who weren't even born the most recent time their team won it all. Woody was all over the map when it came to his vision, if you can call it a vision, and on everything from the relevance of fan opinion to whether he'd hire a GM before a coach to the mind-boggling mistake in allowing Darrelle Revis to sign with the New England Patriots, of all teams, after Revis told the Jets he wanted to come home.
But first the basics: Johnson allowed Ryan to stick around a season or two too long, and that was at least understandable. Rex was a great guy for a billionaire to hang with, and hey, the guy did deliver the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games out of the gate.
Idzik, on the other hand, never made any sense. He was a numbers guy with no meaningful background in personnel, and he also had the interpersonal skills of a tackling dummy in a market in which building relationships is pretty important. Long before Idzik set fire to his own career in a news conference that would have been rejected as a "Saturday Night Live" skit, his approach kept summoning this question:
How did Johnson ever hire this man? No New York sports owner has been so duped since Fred Wilpon spent less than half an hour in the company of a managerial candidate he described as magnetic -- Art Howe -- before declaring their job interview over and anointing Howe a partner.
"It was obvious that we had to make a change," Johnson said. "It was obvious to me, anyway."
It should have been obvious to Johnson to rehire the best player he ever dressed, Revis. Idzik shipped the cornerback (and agents Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod) to Tampa Bay for the first-round pick that would become Sheldon Richardson, and the Bucs effectively spent $16 million to rehab Revis' knee before sending him into free agency and granting the Jets an opportunity to pounce.
Revis' agents called a Jets official to make it clear their client wanted to return to his old team, and at some point after Tampa Bay released the cornerback, Ryan spoke with Revis by phone to reiterate his undying love. With plenty of salary-cap space to burn and with a roster devoid of competent cornerbacks, Idzik could have assumed the role of genius and played the Bucs for fools by signing a healthier Revis for an ultra-reasonable $12 million for one year while Richardson grew into a star.
Instead, the Jets allowed their former franchise corner and future Hall of Famer to sign with the same team that just won its 12th AFC East title in Johnson's time as Jets owner, and that just placed Revis in yet another Pro Bowl.
"If I thought I could've gotten Darrelle for that [$12 million], I probably would've taken him," Johnson said. "It was our best judgment to do what we did, but Darrelle is a great player. I'd love Darrelle to come back."
Asked why he didn't think he could sign the corner, Johnson said: "I guess my experience with his agents. It would've been very hard."
A league source had told ESPNNewYork.com Revis preferred to sign with the Jets over the Patriots (the Giants and Broncos were the other teams on his list of destinations), and he would have played for Johnson for the same $12 million he got from Bob Kraft. That source repeated Monday that Jets management never returned the call from Revis' reps before the deal was made with New England, a fact that angered Ryan.
This error in judgment was much bigger than the one Johnson made in confessing he'd love another crack at Revis; the NFL has enough problems already, before busying itself with a tampering fine for an owner merely trying to give an honest answer to a reporter's direct question.
Either way, Johnson's responses to other questions were more confusing to Jets fans in dire need of direction and hope. Woody said he would lean on consultants Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf for guidance but added he would "rely on a lot of people," before declaring, "I'm going to ultimately be the one who hires the coach."
Johnson left open the possibility he'd have a coach in place before a GM. Didn't that work out swimmingly the latest time around? The owner said of his paying customers: "I work for the fans, but I don't listen to the fans because the fans that are the most vocal are not maybe ... the fans that represent all the fans." Johnson later said, "We need to speak to our fans" and reminded reporters, "fans know more than you think. They know what's going on, so I don't have to convince them."
Truth is, Johnson comes across as a nice enough rich guy who's operating at a disadvantage in these settings. He never fills a room with his presence, and his tinny, retreating voice detracts from the points he's trying to make.
But the lack of presence is less alarming than the lack of a plan. Johnson has hired all kinds of personalities with all kinds of approaches for his two most important positions, with no common thread running through anything.
This is the Johnson way. He sent a bad message to all in the locker room in Miami last year by turning an 8-8 season into a Ryan coronation and a New Year's Eve-style bash, celebrating the mediocrity that preceded this year's 4-12 bust. A mere two games into this season, Johnson admitted he was already shocked by Rex's recklessness at the end of the first half in Green Bay.
"It was those kind of mysteries that were hard for me to follow," the owner said. "I know our fans said, 'What's going on here?'"
Those fans are asking the same thing now. The Jets might have thrown up a desperate Hail Mary for Jim Harbaugh, but the same headhunter who saddled them with Idzik -- Jed Hughes -- delivered Harbaugh to his alma mater, Michigan. Of course he did.
Without a consistent playbook to work with, Johnson goes searching for different candidates to run his football team. Jets fans shouldn't have any faith in him -- not until Woody earns it.
Being a billionaire means you get to own a football team. It doesn't mean you know how to manage one.