As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The rich are different”. Wealth tends to make its own rules, no matter how it is obtained. For some it is obtained through grit, guile, and perhaps a little bit of luck. To use a sports analogy, they hit a triple. For others, it is inherited; they are simply born on third base. Economist and Nobel Prize winner, George J. Stigler had an interesting take on inheritance. “The large inheritance of wealth,” said Stigler, “probably has the effect of reducing the incentives to the heir to exercise his full capabilities—he has received the gold medal at the beginning of the race.” No truer words have been spoken when describing New York Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson. A brief glancing over of Woody Johnson’s resume reveals a man who has probably not performed any amount of labor in his entire life. He describes himself as a philanthropist. He is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune.
Where Woody Johnson was born on third base, Robert K. Kraft hit the triple. Kraft started out as an employee of a packaging company, the Rand-Whitney group, which he later acquired, building it into one of the world’s largest import-export companies of paper and packaging products. In 1988, he invested 25 million dollars to buy Foxboro stadium out of bankruptcy. The stadium, located in Massachusetts, was home to the NFL’s New England Patriots. Using his leverage, Kraft managed to purchase the team from James Orthwein for 175 million dollars. Kraft was laughed at in some circles, but according to Forbes magazine, today the team is worth 1.2 billion dollars. On the other hand, Woody Johnson paid 635 million dollars for the New York Jets. Forbes lists the current value of the franchise at 967 million.
Both men became owners of NFL franchises only one season apart. During their stewardships, the Patriots have won multiple championships, while the Jets won a handful of playoff games. Robert Kraft took Bill Belichick away from the Jets. Woody took Eric Mangini away from the Patriots. Kraft built a new stadium; Woody failed in his own attempts. The Patriots have just wrapped up 16 straight wins, while the Jets finished this season 4-12.
In spite of these obvious differences, the Jets and Patriots do share something in common—gouging the fans on ticket prices. But whereas the Patriots at least make the exorbitant price palatable by fielding a winner, Woody does not. Where Robert Kraft invests profits back into the team, Woody does not. For all his millions, Woody is cheap. His first head coach, Herman Edwards was the lowest paid HC in the NFL. Granted, Edwards had no previous experience as a head coach, so you get what you pay for. His second coach, although paid more than Edwards, also has no prior head coaching experience. Indeed, both GM’s that have worked for Johnson, Terry Bradway and Mike Tannenbaum, were also new to the job. Is Woody Johnson frightened of qualified people who might challenge his authority, or is being frugal the raison d’ ter behind his questionable decisions? Perhaps both, and just maybe there is a motive of jealousy thrown into the mix as well.
Concerning the New York Jets, Woody Johnson has never made a decision with any amount of confidence in himself. His first choice of general manager, Terry Bradway, was the result of a recommendation by Bill Parcells. His first choice of a head coach, Herman Edwards, appears to have been prompted by then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who himself was under pressure to push for more minority hiring in NFL coaching ranks. Woody even delegated his authority to Jay Cross, President of New York Jets, to get the West Side Stadium deal done. When the smoke settled, the Jets agreed to continue to share a stadium in East Rutherford NJ with the NY Giants.
In spite of the incompetence and indecisiveness exhibited by the owner, HC Eric Mangini gave us all a little bit of hope that perhaps things were going to change for the better; that somehow, Woody finally got one right. Last season the Jets surprised the league by winning ten games, beating the Patriots, and making the playoffs. The future seemed bright, but then the powers that be decided to pull the rug out from all of our feet. It started in the off-season with Guard Pete Kendall squabbling in the press that he wanted more money. It looked like a case of a 34 year old journeyman guard trying to hold the Jets over a barrel for more cash. The Jets decided to play hardball. What should have been a typical player vs. management disagreement over salary, the situation rapidly deteriorated into front page drama, causing an unnecessary distraction. The Jets intentionally humiliated this respected veteran by putting him in the rookie dorm at training camp, and inexplicably making him play center in exhibition games. Pete Kendall was not a saint in any of this, but in retrospect, the behavior exhibited by Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and Eric Mangini was petty and mean.
Kendall eventually got his wish for more money; only it was with another team, the Washington Redskins. The Jets offensive line went to pot. Getting rid of a player—for whatever reason—is only half the job. The other half is replacing that player. The Jets never did that, making their treatment of Pete Kendall that much more of an embarrassment. As a unit, the offensive line needs chemistry, not alchemy. You can’t play musical chairs with the players and expect it to work. It won’t. In two seasons, Mangini has replaced a center, a tackle, and a guard. Next year, there will be at least another new face. Add the fact that the jury is still out on tackle D’Brickashaw Fergeson, who counted almost $4 million dollars against the 2007 cap, and we cannot even say with any amount of certainty that the glass is half full.
You can say that Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick lucked their way into Tom Brady, and but for that, their fortunes would not have been so good. But as Branch Rickey once said, “Luck is the residue of design”. You can’t dismiss the plan, or the designs, of the Patriots organization. If Woody Johnson hired Eric Mangini because he wanted some of that ‘luck’ to rub off on the Jets, he’s kidding himself. Luck does not occur through osmosis. But if Mangini has a plan, if there is a design—Then Eric Mangini will take heed that his mentor Bill Parcells first free agent acquisition as head coach of the Jets was a center, Kevin Mawae.
If Woody truly wants to win, then he should open up his wallet, get this team some legitimate offensive linemen, and stop being so cheap on his end while gouging all the common people on the other end.