The case for Heimerdinger

According to the New York Daily News, Jets owner Woody Johnson isn't in favor of promoting offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to head coach.

No reason was given.

This is very surprising. Heimerdinger is a terrific head-coaching candidate with an outstanding resume. He was a runner-up for the San Francisco 49ers' opening last year.

Why is Johnson not in favor of hiring Heimerdinger? It's hard to say because this is just a rumor, and Johnson hasn't commented publicly. But if I were to hazard a guess, a major reason why Johnson might not support "Dinger" is that the Jets' offense ranked 30th in the NFL this season.

Maybe Johnson and others in Jets camp think it would be a tough sell to the fans promoting a coach who lorded over such a low-ranked offense.

If that is the case, Johnson needs to look beyond it. He doesn't have to sell anything to the fans. His team is sold out on a season-ticket basis with a lengthy waiting list.

Johnson's situation is similar to that of an elected official. Unlike Bill Clinton, good elected officials don't govern by polls. You have to do what's right. And if it's the correct decision, the masses will be with you in the long run.

Heimerdinger can't be judged by the performance of the Jets offense in 2005. He was dealt a terrible hand, made even worse by his boss - Herman Edwards.

The Jets offense was ravaged by injuries this year. It was very hard for Heimerdinger to install his new system with all the key players that were sidelined - including quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler and offensive linemen Kevin Mawae and Jason Fabini. And let's not forget the season-ending injuries to wideout Wayne Chrebet and tight end Chris Baker.

But to make matters worse, Edwards forced Heimerdinger to start immobile 42-year-old signal-caller Vinny Testaverde behind a patchwork offensive line. It was a horrendous decision that had disastrous results, especially in the Buffalo and Atlanta games.

On top of that, Edwards forced Heimerdinger to use injured tailback Curtis Martin, who clearly wasn't 100 percent since a Week Two knee injury. But this didn't stop Edwards from playing Martin all the way until the Week 14 game against New England. Martin rushed for 29 yards on 14 carries against the Patriots, before he finally said he couldn't run anymore. His backup, Cedric Houston, ran well in the last three games and clearly should have replaced Martin earlier.

So when you have issues at perhaps your two most important positions on offense, exacerbated by a head coach who thinks with his heart more than his head, how can you possibly judge Heimerdinger by the job he did in 2005? You can't Mr. Johnson, if that is indeed why you reportedly aren't considering Heimerdinger for the job.

This cat can flat-out coach football, and is a lot more prepared to be a head coach than Edwards was when he took over the Jets. Heimerdinger has more than 30 years coaching experience. Edwards had served 11 years as an assistant coach when he took over the Jets' helm in 2001, including eight seasons in the NFL with the Chiefs and Buccaneers.

After coaching for 20 years in the college ranks, Heimerdinger spent a decade assisting two of the NFL's top head coaches - Mike Shanahan in Denver and Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He learned a lot from this pair of top-shelf coaches.

Almost every time Heimerdinger talks to the press, I turn to a fellow reporter and say, "This guy is going to be a head coach one day." You just get that vibe - the way he conducts himself, the knowledge he exudes, the way he communicates.

He's also a no-nonsense coach, something the Jets need now after five years of Edwards, who is the quintessential players' coach. We hear some players aren't working as hard as they should in the weight program. This is a big reason strength coach John Lott left for Cleveland last year. He wasn't getting the proper support from the head coach. A strength coach can't make players work out, unless the head coach has his back.

Also, some players on injured reserve stopped attending meetings under Edwards. This can't be allowed.

The iron-fisted Heimerdinger wouldn't allow this deterioration of discipline to continue, especially with his background working under Shanahan and Fisher.

"Mike knows who to push and who not to push," said Frank Wycheck, who played tight end under Heimerdinger in Tennessee. "He'll ride the younger guys; he pushes them to get into the [playbook] and to be accountable. He expects you to know your stuff."

And Heimerdinger won't waste as much time as Edwards doing media interviews. Last time we checked, dealing with the press can't help you win on Sunday. Some days Edwards would spend as much as two hours talking to reporters. It was out of control.

Heimerdinger is Bill Belichick-like in that he loves spending countless hours in the laboratory coming up with innovative game plans.

"The hours he puts in are mind-boggling," said Titans backup quarterback Billy Volek.

And all the hours Heimerdinger puts into game-planning usually leads to good things happening on Sunday.

"He has great imagination," said Volek. "He is good at attacking a defense, game-planning, and getting to know the opponents' weakness."

Another reason Heimerdinger is a terrific candidate for the job is continuity. If the Jets ever want to bridge the gap with New England, they need to stop changing systems. The Patriots are all about continuity, and the Jets' constant staff changes are very bad for player development. If Heimerdinger leaves, the Jets offensive players will have to learn their third new offense in three years.

The best thing for the Jets to do is promote Heimerdinger, keep Mike Westhoff as special teams coach, and possibly promote linebackers coach Bob Sutton or secondary coach Corwin Brown to defensive coordinator. We hear Donnie Henderson will likely be coaching elsewhere next year.

Don't throw new playbooks at the players once again, unless you want to take a giant step backward.

Woody, you can do an extensive search if you like, but the feeling here is that your head coach is already in the building.

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