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Not a good idea for Woody to give keys to kids


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(Original publication: February 8, 2006)


We will believe it when we see it. This is the mantra of a fan base battered beyond recognition. This is the single term of gameday engagement for the men and women who follow the Jets enough to know they cannot embrace the hopes of the latest suit at the podium, calling fresh audibles into a mike.

Terry Bradway was overmatched from the start, so Mike Tannenbaum is the new kid on the chopping block, the new general manager who says he's ready for the big city and bright lights. Tannenbaum joins Eric Mangini as the Jets' 30-something wonder boys, alleged wonder boys, anyway, their coach-management team made in the image of the dynastic duo of Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli.

The Jets are trying to copy the Patriots again. They are selling the notion that Tannenbaum can find players the way Pioli has found them for the Patriots, and that Mangini can coach those players the way Belichick has coached them on the biggest Sunday in sports.

"Over the last five years," Woody Johnson said of the not-so-dearly-departed Bradway and Herman Edwards, "they certainly proved good enough to get in the playoffs. But just getting in the playoffs isn't good enough."

Johnson is talking Super Bowl now. The owner of a 4-12 team.

He has no credibility, the rich man with the poor record. Why should Jets fans believe that Johnson has suddenly come up with the magic front-office formula to end 37 seasons of championship-free ball?

Easy. They shouldn't.

Bradway was a lightweight in a market that doesn't suffer lightweights easily. He was a scout afraid of his own public shadow, a talent evaluator who was better off with a stopwatch in his hand, timing college kids in backwater towns where nobody can find him.

Bradway got a lousy fourth-round pick when he traded Edwards to the Chiefs, and if that didn't seal his fate, the hiring of Mangini did. Tannenbaum talked him into that one. They're good buds from way back, Tannenbaum and Mangini, just like Belichick and Pioli. But with Mangini signed to a four-year deal and talking up his big-picture plans, and with Bradway under contract for two more years and needing to win next season to save his hide, even an amateur-hour owner like Woody could see the arrangement wouldn't work.

Their agendas tugging at opposite ends of a frayed organizational rope, Bradway couldn't coexist with the coach he hired to replace Edwards. So Johnson put him out of his misery. Sent him off to be a consultant in charge of absolutely nothing.

In a different day, Tannenbaum and Mangini and their offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, could pass for fresh-faced ballboys. This is where the Jets are borrowing again from New England, the Red Sox side of the region, where all you need to show for a front-office job is a driver's permit.

Sounds like the Jets had better add some acne medicine to their orders for chin straps and ankle tape. At yesterday's news conference, Johnson said Tannenbaum and Mangini would be charged to identify "the next generation of emerging leaders, even before others take note."

But do Tannenbaum and Mangini themselves represent the best and brightest of their own generation? Like Mangini, Tannenbaum is a Belichick and Bill Parcells guy, and that's a hell of a start. The new GM is also said to be a salary-cap wizard, although wizards generally don't land their teams $30 million over the cap.

Tannenbaum is a lawyer and bean counter, and probably not the first guy you'd hire to evaluate Vince Young's release point. Mangini? He's supposed to be Belichick's little brother, but has no head-coaching experience and spent only one season as a coordinator.

On paper, this isn't the most inspiring of leadership teams, no matter how much everyone wanted to talk yesterday about a new era and a new culture of responsibility. The Jets have never led the league in accountability, which is why their fans can tell you it isn't easy being green.

Tannenbaum and Mangini aren't taking control of the Steelers here. Chad Pennington might never again be a competent NFL starter, and John Abraham and Curtis Martin might not return at all. The 2006 Jets already have a foul 5-11 scent about them.

With another fan base, one that has actually witnessed a ring ceremony or two since early 1969, another rebuilding plan wouldn't be such a monumental deal. But Jets fans don't want to hear about patience and a methodical, step-by-step march back to respectability. They've been there, done that, a thousand times since Joe Willie Namath wagged that right index finger toward his forever Orange Bowl sky.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Tannenbaum said yesterday. That's one promise Jets fans know their GM will keep.

Everything else Tannenbaum said about someday winning the AFC East and returning to the Super Bowl? Jets fans learned long ago that they shouldn't bother holding their breath.

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Another dose of negativity from a nerdy English major. Attention world: The Jets were 4-12 last year and have the fourth pick in the draft, this is not a team that is poised to go to the Super Bowl. The team went nowhere under two bumbling fools last year, so things can't get any worse. The minute Herm left, this team improved even if Rolf the Wonder Pony was the next head coach. Give these guys a chance, even though the safe bet is to trash them. I'm on board the Mangini Express.

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