The future of Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense is now in Tony Sparano's hands.
The Jets hired the former Miami Dolphins coach as their offensive coordinator Wednesday to replace Brian Schottenheimer and take over an offense that struggled mightily this season as New York failed to make the playoffs.
"When we sat down with Tony, I knew that he was the right person at the right time for our offense," coach Rex Ryan said in a statement. "I've admired his work as a competitor in the division for the past three seasons. His teams were always physical, tough and hard-nosed."
The team announced the hiring just over 12 hours after announcing that Schottenheimer told the Jets he wouldn't return next season despite having two years left on his contract. Schottenheimer, the son of former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, was highly criticized for the Jets' inconsistencies as they ranked 25th overall in offense. He also took a lot of the blame for Sanchez not progressing as expected in his third year.
The 50-year-old Sparano now will try to get the franchise quarterback back on track, and he could get some help. Former Kansas City coach Todd Haley, known for his work with developing passing games, was scheduled to interview with the Jets on Thursday for a position on Ryan's staff.
"I'm very proud to be part of such an outstanding organization and to have an opportunity to work with these players," Sparano said. "I know this division very well and I'm looking forward to that challenge."
There will be a few new faces working under Ryan next season, including Sparano. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan and wide receivers coach Henry Ellard are also both not expected back.
This will be the first NFL offensive coordinator job for Sparano, but he did call plays for Dallas during the 2006 season. He is a strong proponent of a run-first approach, something Ryan prefers — "Ground-and-Pound" — and the type of system Sanchez thrived in during his first two seasons with the Jets.
"I'm excited about it," left guard Matt Slauson said. "It is a strange time right now, but I'm excited about him. I know he loves to run the ball and he's a demanding coach, and it'll be interesting to see, but I think a lot of guys will be excited, too."
Sparano was fired by the Dolphins last month after going 29-32 in three-plus seasons. He also has worked as an assistant in Cleveland, Washington and Jacksonville.
The 38-year-old Schottenheimer said in a statement late Tuesday night that he was "very proud of what we have accomplished" during his six seasons with the Jets, and thanked Ryan and the organization. Despite the team's 8-8 record, Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum said last week they expected Schottenheimer back unless he got a head coaching job.
Despite the votes of confidence, the perception from fans and media was Schottenheimer was on his way out. He interviewed for Jacksonville's job, which went to Mike Mularkey on Tuesday night — and then the Jets announced they and Schottenheimer had parted ways.
The move came despite Schottenheimer having two years and about $3.2 million remaining on his contract after quietly receiving an extension in the offseason.
Things seemed to come to a head for Schottenheimer in Week 16 as the offense struggled in a 29-14 loss to the Giants. Sanchez threw 59 times, something that had even the players scratching their heads.
In the season finale at Miami, wide receiver Santonio Holmes argued in the huddle, leading Schottenheimer to bench the playmaker — even while New York was trying to get back in what became a 19-17 loss.
The Jets even brought in Tom Moore, the former Indianapolis Colts offensive guru, as a consultant in training camp to assist Schottenheimer. Some viewed that as a clear indicator that the team was not thrilled with the offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer said he was happy to have Moore's experience to lean on, and Ryan said Moore's presence was in no way a result of a lack of confidence in Schottenheimer.
It's uncertain whether Moore will remain with the Jets next season, but it's clear Sparano will have plenty of work to do with the offense.
He'll have to evaluate Sanchez in his system and likely bring in a backup who could push him if he struggles. The Jets also must address their offensive line, which was shaky for good chunks of the season and decide whether they want to bring back veterans such as wide receiver Plaxico Burress and running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who is contemplating retirement.