January 5, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

With Kansas City Calling, Jets Mull End of Edwards Era
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
January 5, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/25404

On Monday, Jets head coach Herm Edwards dismissed rumors that he was interested in bolting New York to take the vacant head coaching position in Kansas City.

"I'm happy to be the coach here and I'm going to be the coach here, like I said before, and that's as far as I want to comment on it," he said. Similarly, Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson refused to comment on the speculation during a press conference announcing Dick Vermeil's retirement as Chiefs coach.

Despite those denials, sources were reporting yesterday evening that the Chiefs and Jets were close to an agreement that would allow Edwards to go to Kansas City in exchange for a package of draft picks. Such a deal would need to be approved by the NFL, and an announcement could come as early as this morning.

While these sorts of trades for coaches aren't common, this would mark the third time in eight seasons that the Jets were involved in a coaching swap. In 1997, they sent four draft picks and $300,000 to New England for Bill Parcells, who had just led the Patriots to ab AFC championship. Three years later, Gang Green received a first-round pick as compensation for letting Bill Belichick leave their coaching staff for New England's top job.

Similar deals helped send Vermiel from St. Louis to Kansas City in 2001 and Jon Gruden from Oakland to Tampa Bay in 2002.

Each of those coaches had been to multiple Super Bowls as either an assistant or head coach, but Edwards hasn't, and so the compensation the Jets might receive isn't expected to be quite so gaudy. A couple of late-round picks seems more likely.

Edwards had two years remaining on a four-year contract extension, but he was reportedly unhappy with his deal with the Jets. At $2 million a year, Edwards is one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league, and wanted a raise as a reward for taking the team to the playoffs three times in five years. Owner Woody Williams apparently balked at that idea, especially in the midst of a disastrous 2005 season that saw an injury ravaged team stumble to a 4-12 finish.

Despite the problems this year, there weren't any indications that Edwards was in danger of being fired. He is extremely well-liked both by fans and players, and even his staunchest critics acknowledge that he did a decent job of handling the rash of injuries that plagued the team. The departure seems to have been orchestrated by Edwards, who started his coaching career with the Chiefs and has a close friendship with Peterson, who gave him his first NFL job as an executive in the Chiefs' player personnel department in 1990.

Clearly, it didn't make any sense for the Jets to stand in his way. The team faces enough challenges without saddling themselves with a coach who doesn't want to be on the sidelines. There are salary cap issues, questions about the health of quarterback Chad Pennington, and the likely departure of several assistant coaches, not to mention the retirement of Wayne Chrebet and the decline of future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin.

But this development is about more than simply making Edwards happy. It's an acknowledgment that the team has problems beyond the injuries it suffered this year, and that despite a modicum of success under Edwards, it's time for a change. He's taken this team as far as he can, and if things are going to turn around, it's going to have to be under someone else's leadership.

One of the dangers of parity in the modern NFL is that it allows every team to entertain the illusion that it is a contender. But the fact remains the Jets are 20-38 over the last three seasons, and while it's convenient to pin the blame for two bad seasons on injuries to Pennington, that's just wishful thinking. Good teams can survive the loss of a quarterback; lousy teams use it as a convenient excuse for their losing.

While Edwards supporters would point to the fact that he took the Jets to the playoffs three times in his first four seasons, his detractors would point out that he did it with a team that was built by Parcells. As that core group of players that Edwards inherited has gotten older, he's been unable to keep the team playing at a competitive level.

If Edwards is leaving, then the immediate question is obviously: "Who's our next coach?" If the Jets were hesitant to pay Edwards top dollar, it seems unlikely that they'd pursue top candidates like Iowa's Kirk Ferentz or former Lions and 49ers coach Steve Mariucci. Reports from New Orleans suggest that Jets GM Terry Bradway has already talked to Jim Haslett, who was fired by the Saints on Monday. Other names likely to be considered include ex-Giants head man Jim Fassel, former Packers coach Mike Sherman, and Bears legend Mike Singletary.

The Jets have already given permission for defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson to interview with the Saints about their head coaching job. Because he's so similar to Edwards in his temperament and coaching style, it seems unlikely that the Jets would want to go in that direction. Mike Westhoff holds the title of assistant head coach, but he's a special teams guru better suited to his present job than to running an entire team.

The one candidate from the current staff who makes sense is offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. If the Jets hope to rebound quickly, they need a head coach with expertise on the offensive side of the ball. Heimerdinger proved he qualified in that regard with his work as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, and before that as an assistant with the Broncos during their back-to-back championship seasons. Unlike some of the sexier names that will be tossed around, Heimerdinger's not going to command a huge salary, and that may be the most important factor.

January 5, 2006 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version