Mike Tannenbaum pulled out a letter as he stood in front of the New York Jets players for one last time.
It was a farewell address to the group of men he signed, traded for and drafted over the last seven years as the team's general manager. He choked back tears as he read it, and received a round of applause when he was done.
"It was really heartfelt," defensive end Mike DeVito said Monday. "I know Mike, and he'll bounce back."
The Jets fired Tannenbaum after a dismal 6-10 season, but owner Woody Johnson announced that Rex Ryan will be back for a fifth season as the team's coach.
"I believe that he has the passion, the talent, and the drive to successfully lead our team," Johnson said of Ryan in a statement.
The futures of both Tannenbaum and Ryan were unclear after a 28-9 loss to Buffalo on Sunday, a miserable finish to the team's first losing season in Ryan's four years as coach. While it appeared Tannenbaum was a likely goner, it was believed Ryan might also be on shaky ground.
Ryan's scheduled news conference with the media Monday afternoon was postponed amid speculation that there could be several changes on the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is expected to be fired after one season, although no coaching moves were immediately made by Johnson after a staff meeting. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's status is uncertain after he turned down a contract extension earlier in the year, while special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff retired following Sunday's game.
Johnson started shaking things up early by parting ways with Tannenbaum, who had been with the organization since 1997. Johnson said he has consulted with several "football executives" and also hired a search firm to help aid in finding a new GM. Former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian, 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble, Texans director of college scouting Mike Maccagnan, Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta and Raiders director of personnel Joey Clinkscales — who was previously a member of New York's front office — could all garner attention from the Jets.
"My goal every year as owner is to build a team that wins consistently," Johnson said. "This year, we failed to achieve that goal. Like all Jets fans, I am disappointed with this year's results. However, I am confident that this change will best position our team for greater success going forward."
The Jets were a team in turmoil from the moment they acquired quarterback Tim Tebow in a trade with Denver last March. The move was made by Tannenbaum and highly criticized by fans and media — and failed in just about every way.
Tebow was brought in as a backup for Mark Sanchez and expected to play a key role in certain offensive schemes. He played sparingly, and spent several weeks out of the lineup with injured ribs.
Meanwhile, Sanchez was having a poor season, the Jets kept losing and Tebow never got a chance to be the No. 1 quarterback.
"I underachieved and didn't play the way I'm capable of playing," Sanchez said. "I want another crack at this thing."
Tebow's time with the Jets began with a splashy news conference, but his one and likely only season ended with the popular backup going out quietly as he wasn't available to the media as the players cleared out their lockers.
Tannenbaum's tenure as the Jets' GM included two trips to the AFC championship game. He had two years left on his contract, but Johnson made the change after the Jets failed to make the playoffs for a second year in a row.
In a statement, Tannenbaum thanked Johnson for "the opportunity of a lifetime" and added that "there are champions on this team that haven't been crowned yet."
Tannenbaum was hired as the team's director of player contract negotiations in 1997, and served in various other roles before replacing Terry Bradway as general manager in 2006.
With a knack for navigating the NFL's salary cap, Tannenbaum was never afraid to make splashy signings or trades — Tebow, Brett Favre, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, to name a few. He also made his mark on draft day, bringing in some of the team's best players such as Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris. But Tannenbaum had more misses than hits in recent drafts, with Vernon Gholston, Vladimir Ducasse and even Sanchez high-round picks that didn't perform as expected.
The trade for Tebow was perhaps the biggest mistake. By acquiring Tebow last March, the Jets brought in a player with immense popularity to provide a spark to the offense — just a matter of days after giving Sanchez a contract extension that included $8.25 million in guarantees for next season. Many fans and media argued that rather than trade for Tebow, Tannenbaum could have addressed some of the Jets' more-pressing needs, such as the offensive line, wide receiver and depth on defense.
The next GM will face an unstable salary cap situation, along with a dozen players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, including starters Dustin Keller, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, Shonn Greene and Brandon Moore. Decisions will also have to be made on high-priced and aging veterans such as Calvin Pace and Bart Scott.
Meanwhile, that new GM will also have to work with Ryan, who has two years remaining on his contract and is two years removed from the second of consecutive trips to the AFC championship game.
"I'm excited that Rex is going to be here," Mangold said. "I know he has a passion and a fire for this game and for this team. We have to do a better job on the field, and that starts here shortly."
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