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NEW YORK — Rex Ryan went from the hot seat to some job security.
At least through the next two seasons.
The New York Jets signed the popular coach to a contract extension Thursday, removing the lame duck label from Ryan and potentially keeping him with the franchise through at least the 2015 season.
Ryan, who had one year remaining on his contract, was retained by owner Woody Johnson for next season after his job appeared in jeopardy. Expectations were extremely low outside the team entering this season, but Ryan led the Jets to a surprising 8-8 finish that had players and fans clamoring for Johnson and general manager John Idzik to keep the coach.
Johnson, who announced after the season-ending win at Miami that Ryan would be back, rewarded him with the extension and removed the specter of him heading into next season without a contract beyond this year. Ryan is 42-38 in the regular season in his five years with the Jets.
The team announced the extension, but would provide no further details regarding the length of the deal or financial terms.
ESPN, which first reported the deal, said it is a multiyear extension that contains incentives based on playoff victories. Ryan is 4-2 in the postseason with the Jets, including consecutive trips to the AFC championship game in his first two seasons, but New York hasn’t made the playoffs in three years.
Despite the extension, Ryan wouldn’t necessarily be guaranteed to be back after the 2015 season if the Jets continue to miss the postseason.
For now, though, the idea that Ryan could be around for at least two more seasons could help recruit free agents, and the Jets are expected to be a major player this offseason since they will be comfortably under the salary cap. It might also help Ryan with settling his coaching staff, especially after losing special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica to Washington and linebackers coach Brian VanGorder to Notre Dame as the school’s defensive coordinator. Several other assistant coaches, including defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, have expiring deals.
Ryan faced an uncertain future last offseason after the Jets went 6-10, but Johnson retained the coach and fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum. The team hired Idzik as general manager, with Ryan already in place, and it had been speculated that Idzik could want to hire a coach of his choice this offseason.
During a news conference to wrap up the season two days after finishing 8-8, the two gushed about their working relationship.
“I never felt that I wasn’t John’s coach,” Ryan said. “I felt that I’m his coach regardless of how the situation was, that’s kind of how I feel.”
The Jets opened 5-4 and as one of the NFL’s most surprising teams led by rookie quarterback Geno Smith heading into their bye-week break, but they set an NFL record by alternating wins and losses through their first 10 games. A three-game skid sent New York from controlling its playoff fate to barely in the postseason picture.
After the Jets were eliminated, there were serious questions as to whether Ryan would be retained. But there was an uncommonly overwhelming amount of support for Ryan with fans, players and ex-players taking to social media to state their case as to why he should stay.
Ryan and Idzik will now look forward to shaping next season’s team with plenty of issues to consider, starting with the quarterback situation. The Jets will have to determine whether Smith has a chance to be their quarterback of the future, and whether they’ll draft another player to compete with him or sign a proven veteran.
New York will likely part ways with injured quarterback Mark Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes and possibly cornerback Antonio Cromartie to save money on the salary cap, and there are several potential key free agents, including right tackle Austin Howard, right guard Willie Colon and kicker Nick Folk.
Ryan now gets a chance to build off the surprising performance of his team and try to make good on that Super Bowl title he boldly guaranteed when he was hired in 2009.