Mike LaFleur, Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, Woody Johnson
Mike LaFleur, Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, Woody Johnson, Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Now that Mike LaFleur is gone, a more critical New York Jets concern is brought to the table.

It’s a football pastime as old as video games themselves: Criticize your team’s offensive coordinator because, after all, you know what you’d do on third down en route to digital gridiron glory.

Going play-action on first down? What? Calling a draw on third and long? Are you nuts? Each team’s offensive play call is scrutinized to death on Sunday, and this naturally includes the New York Jets.

The Jets—featuring a 2022 NFL offense that finished 25th in yards (318.2 per game) and 29th in scoring (17.4 per game)—decided to “part ways” with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur on Wednesday. The reports come after days of rabid speculation and numerous rumors surrounding the future of the Jets’ young offensive mind.

Forget whether or not firing LaFleur is the right call for a moment. The fact that he’s now gone, coupled with the reports that ownership and/or certain front office individuals wanted it to happen, while head coach Robert Saleh fought for his guy, raises a much more prudent and dangerous concern here.

If this Joe Douglas-Robert Saleh-led regime is no longer operating of its own volition—in regards to handling Mike LaFleur’s future with the organization—then things have taken a turn for the worse.

For years on end, one of the top complaints coming from Jets fandom was that the football hierarchy presented itself in a muddled manner. Once Bill Parcells left town and Woody took over, the Jets’ deployed a hierarchy that saw both the general manager and head coach report to ownership.

The system often allowed the circus a one-way ticket into Florham Park, with leaks pouring out of the building and back channels aplenty. It was a system that starred the stranger marriage that was Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan, as well as the uncomfortable pairing of Rex Ryan and John Idzik.

Finally, after getting it so wrong so often, Christopher Johnson made Joe Douglas the chief boss. Once Adam Gase left the state (we think) and Robert Saleh entered, the hierarchy featured a clear and appropriate setup with G.M. Joe atop the football program.

So far, so good, under the Douglas regime with him atop the org chart. The Jets possess a seriously talented roster and the circus (and leaks)—for the most part—have left town.

Today, however, after the LaFleur news, we’re left with more questions than answers.

Saleh, 43, is as loyal as they come. Remember, Jeff Ulbrich, the very same fella who resided over the NFL’s worst defense a year ago, survived last offseason. Poll Jets fans after Week 1’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens to get a peek into their thoughts about the defensive coordinator (and the rotation … oh, that pesky defensive line rotation).

Now, Ulbrich is Buddy Ryan, having presided over the league’s fourth-best defense (311.1 yards allowed per game). Did the magical football fairy come to town with amazing pixie dust, only to sprinkle it all over the former hard-nosed pro football linebacker? How in the world did he lift his coaching game to such a wild extent over the course of a short few months?

The truth is so much simpler than Jets Twitter would have you believe: New York’s defensive roster is drastically improved. Sauce Gardner’s arrival was as impactful as anything in Jets land this season. Couple that with Quinnen Williams’s insane emergence, and suddenly, things are cooking.

Let’s also not forget about the lack of defensive injuries—something that could not be said offensively.

LaFleur, 36, on the other hand, dealt with his fair share of issues this season.

First, Mekhi Becton goes down for the year. (As luck would have it, the most recent version of Mount Mekhi looks a lot slimmer, yielding no help in LaFleur’s direction, now that he’s obviously gone.) Then, Zach Wilson appeared to have torn his knee up in a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

New York’s offense is forced to coax Duane Brown out of retirement and roll with Joe Flacco. It then deals with a mind-boggling offensive line situation that saw Brown, George Fant and Max Mitchell all miss time due to injury. Free-agent acquisition Laken Tomlinson underperformed severely, and then the Denver game happened.

The rushing game was humming with Breece Hall and the Jets were 5-2 after a victory over the Broncos—the very same game the team’s heart and soul was lost for the season. Once Alijah Vera-Tucker was lost, that was it. The patchwork offensive line, led by this team’s offensive version of Joe Klecko, lost its identity and leader. (And, of course, losing Hall was just as rough.)

Saleh’s conservative, defensive-first gameplan is doubled down upon from that point forward, and Zach Wilson eventually reaches a confident low point of no return upward. On top of that, at 4-2, after a huge win in Green Bay, sophomore receiver Elijah Moore makes noise via trade request.

Anything else we’re missing here? Oh yeah, let’s not forget about Corey Davis’s injuries and the fact this Jets offense went through a grand total of seven quarterback changes throughout the season (Wilson, Flacco, Wilson, Mike White, Wilson, White and then Flacco one final time).

Sorry, folks, but very few offensive coordinators will succeed under these circumstances.

Quite literally, the only offensive improvement for the 2022 Jets was that of rookie Garrett Wilson. As a whole, via injuries and overall talent, the offense took major steps back (as compared to 2021).

Then again, there is an argument that LaFleur didn’t deserve a third season. However, the idea that the call was too close to make meant that it needed to err on the side of caution and, more importantly, cohesion.

In other words: When it’s close, do not flirt with a change. It’s just too dangerous.

The continual changing of the offensive guard does nobody any good. The last Jets offensive coordinator to last more than two seasons was Brian Schottenheimer, all the way back during the Ruthian days of Rex.

Yet, the actual deed that is moving on from LaFleur isn’t the greatest issue at hand. Although we don’t (and probably won’t) know who led the charge, if ownership overruled this regime’s wish to keep LaFleur in tow, the Jets just took several steps backward as a whole.

It’s more critical that this organization is willing to allow the Douglas-Saleh regime to succeed or fail on its own devices as opposed to choosing a scapegoat in the face of appeasing the mob. And yes, this mob is Jets fandom. And although fans will be fans, and fans should never receive the big red “X” on the front of their home-white T-shirts, it’s also undoubtedly important to raise awareness.

Play-calling in football is highly overrated. Sorry, folks, that’s simply the truth.

Schemes in the NFL are extremely overrated. Sean McVay, a master offensive chef at work, finished dead last in yards per game this past season (280.5 yards per contest). Did the magical football fairy suddenly strip him of his powers?

Nah … He was simply dealt a horrendous hand in 2022.

In spite of the very real idea that play-calling is overrated, the importance of coaching in this sport trumps any other. But coaching in this sport is also much more impactful beyond what happens on the field. Various critical areas of football coaching include every aspect that deals with “building the best culture in sports,” what Joe Douglas told the world he set out to accomplish as general manager of the Jets.

If Jets ownership stripped the regime’s ability to decide LaFleur’s fate on its own, then all of that culture talk becomes a little more meaningless.

Granted, Woody Johnson has every right to make any move he’d like. But that doesn’t mean making any move he’d like is the right move—en route to getting what he wants most, a winning football team on the field.

Yet again, another New York Jets offensive coordinator bites the dust in the face of near-fictional challenges. And yet again, we do not officially know who led the charge on this decision.

The only thing we know is the following:

  1. There are many Jets fans who parade around as Madden stars that are incredibly happy Mike LaFleur is gone.
  2. This decision creates many more questions than answers.
  3. They better have a home run replacement in mind.
  4. If LaFleur is gone due to anybody other than Douglas or Saleh, the New York Jets just took many steps backward—no matter the conviction on “correct or incorrect decision.”

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, developer and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor | Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (sold in 2020). SEO: XLM Email: robby.sabo[at]jetsxfactor.com
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mlesko73
mlesko73
16 days ago

I totally agree w/ the statement that if ownership made this call (any football ops call) then we are in trouble.
I disagree that the primary reason to fire LaF was being critical of his play calling.
IMHO the reason he needed to be replaced was his refusal to change based on personnel, including injuries. The failure to ever incorporate our newly signed, upper tier TE’s is inexcusable, especially in the red zone. Nania’s article yesterday pointed out that LaF was avg in terms of using crossing and slant patterns. This negates the YAC talents of our Wr’s and ignores the limitations of the QB’s. The continued use of Elijah outside the hashes was ridiculous. Look at his college highlights to see where his talents lay. Having Flacco throw across the field outside the hashes was another disaster.
We fired the O Line coach too, and I would point out how ridiculous it was to continue to try to run “stretch” w/ the linemen we ended up with.
Mike needed to go.

Last edited 16 days ago by mlesko73
MasterWu77
MasterWu77
16 days ago

I get the cohesion and culture reason you bring up. I think those can be valid reasons to keep MLF but I have to think all the other cons were too much.

As a former defensive-minded coach, Saleh was entrusting the offense to MLF and also the development of whatever QB they picked. Wilson was his hand-picked QB at number 2. MLF was there at the BYU pro day with Douglas and Saleh. Both Douglas and Saleh probably made sure MLF was good with not just taking Wilson but making sure that MLF could develop him. The fact that Wilson has regressed this much is a huge red flag against MLF.

This doesn’t even consider the other issues that others bring up: no touchdown in the last three games, play calling was a mess at times, opening scripts were awful and the Jets constantly played from behind most games.

I get the injury argument and it’s valid as it concerns the OL (particularly the OTs) but he also had more talent on this offense than last year at the skill positions. G. Wilson was an absolute beast and he had Hall plus two new talented TEs that were never really utilized. With a banged up OL, could he not figure out how to score at least one touchdown in three games (two of which had massive playoff implications).

When other teams have players that get hurt (particularly on the OL), you’d never know as it seems like the Jets never exploit the injury or the other team figures out a plan to cover up that weakness.

So, I get it. There were other issues besides just MLF and maybe he was scape-goated. But, at least for me, he didn’t show me enough to warrant staying and his inability to develop the QB that was picked for him is the most concerning. Other teams replace coordinators and coaches and then improve because the coaching got better. Perhaps, the Jets can get this right with someone with more experience.

Jim G
Jim G
16 days ago

A lot of Jets fans act as if they are Donald Trump and can’t wait to say “you’re fired” to Jets players, coaches or front office personnel. So, they got their wish.

Two objective reasons to replace LaFleur. First, if they want to find out what they have in Zach Wilson it does not make sense to keep the person responsible for his development since it clearly has not worked in two seasons. Second, no touchdowns in 3 consecutive games is pretty pathetic; correction, very pathetic. The offense was clearly not working.

I love the names Jets fans throw around for OC. Question: if, as many suspect, the Jets are playing under a playoff mandate in 2023, what elite OC candidate would choose a team with no QB, no guarantee they will be able to sign a serviceable QB and the distinct possibility of regime change after the season? Don’t get me wrong, someone will take the job, but it is the elite candidate everyone is hoping for?

vnick12
vnick12
17 days ago

My belief is this decision was driven by Douglas. He has to know if Wilson is salvageable by the end of next year and it was clear there was a breakdown between Zach and LaFleur. He needs Woody’s buy in because if they want to bring in a proven talent to run the offense, it’s going to cost $$$.

Jets71
Jets71
17 days ago
Reply to  vnick12

This isn’t popular but I think Woody gets a bit of a bad rap, and will do what it takes to win. I also don’t know where the narrative that he’s a “wild card” type owner comes into play? Herm, Rex, Bowles, they all probably stayed too long, the only guy he moved on from early was Mangini and even then he got 3 seasons.

Jets71
Jets71
17 days ago

I liked LaFleur, I think he had room to grow, the only thing I saw that could potentially be a red flag, was his relationship with the players. There seemed to be a disconnect, E. Moore, Garrett made mention the offense was getting predictable, he called out Becton at a presser, Mims was in the dog house (maybe he deserved it) MC regressed, I’m just not sure he could relate to the players at this point.

Clearly they need a pro but PLEASE don’t bring me Darrell Bevell.

Psi
Psi
17 days ago

MLF seemed to be in over his head down the stretch. Despite substandard personnel, he seemed stubborn to things that were just not working. The constant plowing up the middle for little gain was a real irritant. That said, you are correct in the following statement “if ownership overruled this regime’s wish to keep LaFleur in tow, the Jets just took several steps backward as a whole…”