Commentary

Woody talks proudest moments, regrets

In Part II of our two-part Q&A, Johnson says he's comfortable being an NFL owner

Updated: May 16, 2010, 9:04 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For a seemingly mild-mannered person, Woody Johnson has waded into his share of controversy during his 10 years as the New York Jets' owner.

There was the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the Jets accused the New England Patriots of illegal videotaping. Just recently, Johnson called out Roger Goodell, questioning the commissioner's secret coin flip to determine which team would play the first regular-season game at the new Meadowlands Stadium.

"He'll say what a lot of people won't say," former Jets star Curtis Martin said of Johnson. "He has this quiet tenacity about him. I think most people close to him know about it."

Johnson has experienced a few foot-in-mouth moments over the years in a tenure marked by upheaval and fairly consistent success on the field. From 2000 to 2009, the Jets reached the playoffs five times; only seven other teams did it more often. So no, they're not the Los Angeles Clippers.

But the Jets haven't won a Super Bowl since 1969, perhaps because of the instability. Johnson is on his fourth coach and fourth quarterback, although he firmly believes the Rex Ryan-Mark Sanchez tandem will win a Lombardi Trophy.

If the turnover seems familiar -- early Steinbrenner, anyone? -- it might be because Johnson is a big fan of the Yankees boss, as he reveals in Part 2 of his two-part interview with ESPNNewYork.com. Here, he reflects upon people and events that shaped his first decade as owner.

Q: Is there is a sports owner, perhaps someone in New York, that you really admire?

WJ: The guy I admire the most is George Steinbrenner. He's a winner and has a lot of personality. The Yankee record is unparalleled in sports.

Q: Do you think you have some similarities with Steinbrenner?

WJ: No, he has a lot more rings. When I get some rings, maybe.

Q: In what ways are you a better owner now than when you first took over?

WJ: Better coach, for one. [Laughs.] Being an NFL owner, at least for me, has been an apprentice period. It takes a while to assimilate the workings of the NFL and to make intelligent decisions, to be able to trust and assemble a great team, to trust your own instincts, to have enough contacts to make intelligent decisions. So I think you do get better over time. We've had a lot of change over the years.

Q: Are you more hands-on in terms of the football operation than you were in your earlier days?

WJ: Yeah, definitely. I leave the ultimate personnel decisions to Mike [Tannenbaum], but I'm not shy about expressing my point of view. I have discussions with the coaching staff, with Mike and with scouting.

Q: Reflecting on your 10 years, what has been your proudest moment?

WJ: The best situation was when I bought the team, when I was actually approved by the other NFL owners. That was a moment where I knew my life had changed, and the journey began at that point.

Q: Worst moment?

WJ: Losing a game is always a really, really, really bad moment. It stokes you up, emotionally. Apart from family matters, I don't know if you can feel worse than that.

Q: Your smartest move in 10 years?

WJ: You mean other than buying the team? I'd say the hiring of the Rex Ryan team, Rex and his coaching staff. I think we have an incredible group of people on the coaching side. To build a team, you need good coaches. Our core players are young and very, very talented, four or five that we picked up over the last four years. I think our players are just as good as anywhere else in the league.

Q: Biggest regret?

WJ: That we put all that effort into the West Side [Stadium]. On the other hand, I'm glad we're not on the West Side now because [that project] may not even be started. But we did put a lot of effort into it, and we gave it everything we had, but I'm so happy because I wouldn't be in Florham Park, N.J., if the political powers that be hadn't said no to the West Side. That would've been a shame, because I think being in Florham Park is the best move. You want to talk about good moves? This was one of the best moves, because what we have here is second to none in the world.

Q: Let's discuss some names and events, with quick impressions. Let's start with Bill Parcells, who ran your football operation the first year.

WJ: Funny. Extremely opinionated. Great memory.

Q: The whole story never came out, but did you try to convince Parcells to return to coaching when Bill Belichick quit in 2000?

WJ: My begging didn't do it.

Q: You begged?

WJ: Oh, yeah. I used everything I could to get him to come. I wanted him to come. He wouldn't come. I could tell. I didn't push as hard as I maybe could have, because I could tell he wasn't feeling it.

Q: What about Al Groh, your first coach?

WJ: Another very intelligent human being. [It was] one year and out, but he filled a gap and he did a good job that year. He got us to 9-7.

Q: Herm Edwards, your second coach?

WJ: Herm is great on ESPN. He was probably the best speaker I've ever heard -- brilliant, brilliant. A lot of enthusiasm. Kept himself in great shape.

Q: Eric Mangini, coach No. 3?

WJ: Very, very smart guy. Very smart. He had the Mangini way. He was very rigid in the way he looked at building the team and coaching the team and disciplining the team.

Q: Rex Ryan?

WJ: Rex is a leader among men. He's a great leader. He leads through humor and expertise. He's the best X's-and-O's guy I've ever had, but it's not just X's and O's. It's the desire to lead his team. This is a man's sport. He's unique.

Q: Another name from the past -- Cablevision's James Dolan, the leading opponent to your bid for a West Side Stadium.

WJ: I thank him for that. Not at the time, of course, but he was watching out for his own business [Madison Square Garden]. I don't begrudge that at all.

Q: Spygate?

WJ: That's in the past. [Patriots owner] Bob Kraft and I have put that behind us.

Q: Did it take a while?

WJ: It took a while, yeah, but that's behind us. We're competitors on the field and partners off the field.

Q: Brett Favre?

WJ: Oh, just bigger than life. You can see why we got him after he did what he did last year. Incredible. Best year that he had.

Q: No regrets on that trade?

WJ: No way. It was a privilege to have him in the building. What a great experience it was to have him here. I think he helped the franchise. What he gave to the locker room is still there.

Q: Are you still ticked off by the commissioner's secret coin flip, won by the Giants?

WJ: No.

Q: How long did it take you to get over that?

WJ: A while. I've totally moved on. Roger and I, we're way past that. It was just … just something we lived a while ago.

Q: Some fans were happy because you stuck up for your team. Was that part of the motivation, to show fans they have a fiery owner?

WJ: Once again, I've answered all those things about it. It was in the past. I'm glad the fans like some of the moves we're making.

Q: Do you consider yourself a demanding boss?

WJ: No, not really. As long as we win the Super Bowl, I'm good. [He smiles.]

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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