Baylor coach Matt Rhule

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Lichtenstein: Choosing A College Coach Over McCarthy Would Earn Jets Failing Grade

Steve Lichtenstein
January 09, 2019 - 12:35 pm
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Unfortunately, no scoreboard exists to identify who’s out in front in the race to become the Jets’ next head coach.

Eight candidates reportedly checked in with Jets owner Christopher Johnson and his “adviser," general manager Mike Maccagnan, in the past week with one -- Kliff Kingsbury -- pulling out early. Kingsbury, who was slated to work as USC’s offensive coordinator next season, was tapped Tuesday to lead the Cardinals.

As ESPN’s Rich Cimini sarcastically tweeted, “Oh, no, how will the Jets ever recover?”

Earth to Jets: Don’t choose a college coach!

MORE: Report: McCarthy Only Interested In Jets Job

In fact, let’s make this simple: Go with the safe choice and hire Mike McCarthy.

As I noted in Monday’s column, I know of many who want the Jets to take a hard pass on McCarthy, the former Packers coach who went 125-77-2 in 13 seasons before he was fired last month. I get the complaints -- he underachieved despite having a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback at his disposal in Aaron Rodgers and he’s made some indefensible game management decisions in big games.

You also have to wonder why the Browns, presumed to be a leading contender for McCarthy’s services given his alleged desire to be closer to his family in Green Bay, moved on to other candidates. It could have been something as simple as McCarthy’s money demands, or maybe they felt they could do better.

So maybe McCarthy’s leaked intentions Tuesday that he will only seek the Jets’ job was a matter of convenience rather than true desire.

MORE: Reports: Bowles To Be Named Buccaneers' Defensive Coordinator

But it shouldn’t matter to the Jets.

For all McCarthy’s perceived faults, his teams made the playoffs nine times in 13 years and won a Super Bowl after the 2010 season. More important, you have to give him some credit for developing Rodgers. 

And that has to hold more weight with the Jets’ search committee, considering that how the next coach intends to develop Jets quarterback Sam Darnold should be question No. 1 in every interview.  

McCarthy’s record in that regard is certainly better than what any college coach has achieved.

I just don’t get the fascination the search team reportedly has with Matt Rhule, the Baylor University coach who worked one season in the NFL as the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach in 2012.

I haven’t watched Baylor football enough to know whether Rhule is out-scheming his opponents, but the odds are that it doesn’t matter. Those who have jumped to the pro level have rarely succeeded, and the two who have since 2000 -- Jim Harbaugh and Bill O’Brien -- had more NFL experience from prior gigs.

Some will argue that the college game is morphing into the NFL style. However, just because it took colleges longer to understand the benefits of the forward pass doesn’t mean it’s now the same game. There is a greater disparity in talent among college teams that can skew results. The speed differences make it much easier for college quarterbacks to pick apart defenses without needing to go through multiple options. Otherwise, every college quarterback with big stats would continue to perform at that level in the NFL.

And then there is the apples-to-oranges comparison of how to manage personnel. In college, the coach is the king. Rhule has been called “intense” and “fiery” because he can get away with treating kids that way.  Pros might see right through that. You can go back to the Jets’ disastrous Lou Holtz experiment in 1976, when the longtime college coach tried to get the team to embrace a fight song.

I’m not saying Rhule is that impractical, but there are also other consequences to hiring someone who has very limited contacts with NFL people. How will he build a staff? He’s going to need highly regarded coordinators to help him transition to the pro game.

And that, more than anything, should be reason enough for the Jets to just not overthink things. How much more time are they willing to subject their fan base to a coach who requires a learning curve? All while Darnold is on the affordable side of his rookie contract? 

This team hasn’t hired anyone with prior NFL head coaching experience since Bill Parcells in 1997, without counting the Bill Belichick's one-day tragi-comedy after Parcells stepped down.

It hasn’t worked out very well, with the limited exceptions of a few good years under Herm Edwards and Rex Ryan.

Let Todd Monken earn his stripes for longer than three seasons as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. Of course Ryan Fitzpatrick, the former Jets quarterback who had a monster 2018 campaign in relief of Jameis Winston, adores Monken. Fitzpatrick adores anyone who calls plays as if he has the arm strength of Patrick Mahomes. Maybe the Bucs’ ascension to the top of the NFL passing yardage statistical category this season had more to do with their star-laden receivers corps. Monken would not have that luxury in New York.

No one can accuse the Jets of not performing their due diligence in looking at every corner and outside the box in their search. But it’s time to pull the trigger on McCarthy.  

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.