Woody Johnson spoke with Jets beat reporters for a half-hour this afternoon in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center boardroom, and the CEO's message to the media and fans was that he wasn't happy with the recently concluded break-even season but that he remains bullish on his football leaders moving the Jets forward into 2012.
"We were a couple of plays short. That's how I think you could describe this season," the Jets owner told the crowd of 20-plus. "We were an 8-8 team — that certainly was not good enough. But I have an extraordinary amount of confidence in both Mike [Tannenbaum] and Rex [Ryan] to put a team together to win in the NFL and take us where we want to go."
Johnson was asked about Ryan, whose 2011 edition was the lowest-performing of his three years as the head coach, and his comments at the end of the season of "not having the pulse of the locker room."
"I'm not sure what he meant by that," the owner said. "The reason he's a good team builder is that he has the personality to notice what's going on. Knowing Rex, I think he knew what was going on. But it was like working on your golf swing. Some things you can only change in the offseason.
"The great thing about Rex is that he has a very healthy ego. He realizes that being a great coach requires admitting mistakes and altering your management style. I've had some good discussions with him. He's the kind of guy that will get better."
The discussions among many Jets followers these days concern the recent comments that LaDainian Tomlinson has made in several TV interviews, most recently on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" on Wednesday night, that the Jets' locker room situation was "as bad as I've ever been around." Johnson politely disagreed with his Hall of Fame-to-be running back.
"I know LaDainian pretty well. He's a very honorable guy, a tremendous player, a tremendous person," Johnson said. "But not making the playoffs, losing eight games is frustrating. It's frustrating to LaDainian, it's frustrating to the 53rd guy. None of the guys at this level are used to losing.
"I don't think the whole locker room was toxic. There clearly were a few players who had conflicts," he added. "I just watch them at practice. If there was the toxicity you're describing, I don't think I'd see what I saw on the practice field. A couple of players, yes, but I didn't see it in the whole locker room."
Two of the players under the most scrutiny for the contentious way the season ended are wide receiver Santonio Holmes and quarterback Mark Sanchez. However, Johnson, echoing the remarks of general manager Mike Tannenbaum and Ryan in the previous two weeks, said he sees no changes regarding those two players.
Asked directly if Holmes will return to the Jets for the coming season, Johnson said, "He will," adding, "he may be one of the best players we've ever had here."
And regarding his quarterback of the past three seasons, the Jets owner was equally supportive: "I have a lot of confidence in Mark Sanchez. He's a very hard worker. He can do everything you want a quarterback to do. ... My feeling is that Mark is the kind of guy that will learn from this and get better."
Yet the man who signs the paychecks wasn't giving a pass to Sanchez and Holmes.
"Absolutely, I'm concerned. But I'm confident" the relationship can be mended, he said. "They won a lot of games together. One is good for the other." Will the owner sit and talk to both of them about this past season. "I plan to," he said. "I see the players as they come and go. When they're in the building, I talk to them all."
And he said he'd consider
One item he declined to talk about was if he was "100 percent guaranteeing" that Sanchez will be his starter in 2012 and if he had any thoughts about speculation about pursuing a big-name free-agent QB once the free agency signing period begins March 13.
"There's no such thing as 100 percent. ... I'm not going to ever tell you guys what we may or may not do. But our job for the fans is to take this team to the very top level."
That, Johnson said, was his biggest disappointment with 2011 as the team and its fans not only won't celebrate the Super Bowl victory that Ryan has set his and the Jets' sights on since he arrived in '09 but didn't even reach the playoffs to contend for this year's title.
"I've been doing this for 12 years now. It's been an apprenticeship, really. I've learned every year," Johnson said in his closing remarks.
"We know what happened this year. There'll be new challenges next year. We have a good plan. I think the fans will know that, No. 1, we work for them, and No. 2, we're not satisfied. We'll use every ounce of our energy to try to get where we want to go."
No Ticket Price Increases in '12
Johnson, who spoke with Michael Kay on ESPN 1050 shortly after his news conference, told Kay in response to a question that ticket prices will remain unchanged for Jets home games at MetLife Stadium for the 2012 season.