FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Before he cuts a single player, before he recruits any free agents, Rex Ryan needs to evaluate the most important person in the New York Jets organization.
He needs to change. No, we're not talking about his controversial bravado -- that'll never change -- but rather the way he picks players, coaches players, deals with his coaches and, generally, runs his program.
If he doesn't tweak his style, Ryan won't get anywhere close to the Super Bowl he's been guaranteeing for three years, and he'll go down as just another shooting star in the Jets' universe. Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini began as stars, too, and look what happened to them.
Ryan needs to rule with a firmer hand. He needs to be the head coach of the team, not a defensive guru who happens to sit in the big chair.
We could name several examples of his myopic approach, but let's stick to the past two weeks: He failed to rein in Brian Schottenheimer when he was calling pass plays on almost every down against the New York Giants, and he didn't know the circumstances of Santonio Holmes' benching in Miami.
That Ryan didn't know why his so-called star receiver wasn't on the field in the final two minutes is hard to fathom. Didn't he think to ask his offensive coaches? They have this thing called a headset -- most coaches wear them, including Ryan -- and it's really a wonderful invention because it allows coaches to communicate with each other.
Based on the past two weeks, you have to wonder whether Ryan and Schottenheimer talk at all during games. But the bigger question is this: How come Ryan didn't see what everybody else saw, even his own players?
Ryan said after the game he wasn't privy to the details, and you have to believe him, because what coach in his right mind would actually admit that? He should've recognized Holmes' waning interest and acted immediately, but he was too preoccupied with the defense, perhaps still trying to figure out how it allowed a 21-play drive to the woeful Miami Dolphins.
If Ryan was hip to Holmes and looked the other way, it would be just another example of his coddling his star players. Even on Monday, when he finally had the facts, he didn't exactly drop the hammer on Holmes. It also happened three weeks ago, when he let Holmes off easy after his mindless and selfish touchdown celebration that resulted in a taunting penalty.
Clearly, the Mr. Nice Guy image bothers Ryan.
"I think I'm maybe a little sterner than what the perception is," he said.
In truth, the problem goes back to training camp, when Ryan decided to make Holmes a captain. First of all, the head coach never should name the captains. It should be organic, determined by the players, but Ryan wanted to be King Rex.
His Holmes appointment was a transparent move, a case of a coach trying to give ownership to a selfish player, figuring the player would buy in. To say it backfired would be an understatement.
On Monday, Ryan said it was a "huge mistake" to designate captains, claiming he was "uncomfortable" with it from the outset.
That's interesting, because about two months after announcing his original five captains, Ryan added a sixth, guard Brandon Moore -- a well-respected veteran who deserved to be an August appointee. The crazy thing is, Ryan didn't tell anybody, not even Moore, who showed up for a game and noticed a "C" on the jersey that was hanging in his locker.
You've heard of "double-secret probation," the line from "Animal House"? This was double-secret promotion. Ryan made a mockery of the captaincy. Privately, a few players said they were turned off by the coach's better-late-than-never decision, one player calling it "very strange."
For the Jets to become a championship-caliber team, Ryan needs to assert himself. Coaches can change. Tom Coughlin proved that in 2007, when his bosses told him he needed to loosen up. He did, and the Giants won a Super Bowl.
Ryan needs to go in the other direction, tightening up the ship, especially when it comes to offense-defense. Sometimes, speaking publicly, he gives the impression of an "us and them" mentality. It can't be that way. It has to be "us."
To his credit, Ryan stepped back, letting coordinator Mike Pettine call the defensive plays. In theory, that should've afforded Ryan more time with the offense, but that apparently wasn't the case.
For most of the season, Ryan talked about getting back to the ground-and-pound mentality, yet the Jets wound up running the ball only 43 percent of the time -- flipping the script from 2009. Schottenheimer called the plays, but it was up to Ryan to chart the course.
Let's be honest: Ryan lost the offense over the final three games of the season. Schottenheimer is taking a lot of the heat, but Ryan deserves blame, too, especially for his ill-advised decision to make guru Tom Moore a full-time consultant for the final five games.
It was another strange move, undercutting Schottenheimer's authority. Ryan doesn't see it that way, and it bothers him that people would accuse him of doing that. There probably wasn't any malicious intent on his part, but perception is everything.
Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum also need to take a hard look at the way they pick players. Exhibit A: Derrick Mason, whom Ryan knew from their days in Baltimore.
Mason had a reputation for being a clubhouse lawyer, yet Ryan convinced Tannenbaum that he'd get him to buy into the team concept. It was a gross miscalculation on many levels, exacerbated by the decision to release Jerricho Cotchery, one of the most respected players in the locker room.
Mason wasn't as toxic as he was made out to be, according to players, but he snapped when told he had been demoted behind rookie Jeremy Kerley. It also was obvious that Mason's skills had eroded; he wasn't a 90-catch receiver, as Ryan had predicted. So he was jettisoned five games into the season.
Ryan must place a greater emphasis on finding players with strong intangibles because it has become clear that he can't coach everybody, as he likes to believe. Yes, Holmes was well-behaved last season, for the most part, but it wasn't because of Ryan's people skills. He was being controlled by the prospect of a big, fat contract.
Holmes played the Jets for suckers, and he got a five-year, $45 million deal. Now they should find a way to get out of that contract for the sake of team chemistry. Holmes is an outcast in the locker room -- had been for most of the season -- and now the whole world knows it.
On Monday, Ryan all but admitted that he did a poor job this season and that he failed to galvanize the team. Ironically, this is supposed to be his strength. In his job interview with Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson, he blew them away with his philosophy on team building.
Ryan is good for the Jets, and one disappointing season shouldn't erase the highs of 2009 and 2010, but he needs to tweak his management style.
Tannenbaum and Johnson should tell him that, but you wonder. During the run-up to the Giants game, Johnson applauded Ryan's headline-making bluster, going so far as to call his coach "brilliant." Hardly.
Instead of patting themselves on the back, which they're good at, the Jets need to roll up their sleeves. And it starts with the man with the biggest sleeves of them all.