Won't defend offense guru

BY RICH CIMINI
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER


Paul Hackett sticks to playbook yesterday as speculation swirls about job.

It's open season on Paul Hackett, whose job security as the Jets' offensive coordinator is tenuous at best. Herman Edwards, responding yesterday to the rampant speculation that Hackett will be fired after the season, stopped short of issuing a vote of confidence.
Asked to evaluate Hackett's performance, Edwards said: "The offense has been kind of up and down. That's where it's been. It's been kind of up and down.

"I'm not trying to evaluate anything at this point," Edwards continued. "I'm too busy just trying to prepare for this week's game. At the end of the year, you evaluate everything, and it starts with me first, what kind of coaching job I've done and what I can do better. I've got to improve."

Edwards almost fired Hackett after last season, but he retained him because of three factors:

He already had fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, and he didn't want total upheaval in one offseason. Quarterback Chad Pennington was - and is - a big Hackett supporter. Hackett agreed to make certain changes in his approach (Edwards wanted the offense to be more aggressive).

Asked if he's happy with the changes, Edwards said, "Like I say, it's been inconsistent."

Edwards acknowledged that the Jets have faced four of the NFL's top seven defenses in terms of points allowed - the Steelers, Ravens, Patriots and Bills. That, no doubt, is a reason why the Jets are averaging only 20 points per game, 18th in the league.

Nevertheless, there are strong indications that Hackett will be dismissed, barring a significant run in the playoffs. Hackett, who received a token one-year extension after last season, is signed through 2005. That means his contract will have to be addressed after the season.

Hackett declined an interview request yesterday.

After a positive showing in the 37-14 victory over the Seahawks, the Jets' offense disappeared in the 23-7 loss to the Patriots. On Sunday, the Jets, vying for a wild-card berth, close the season in St. Louis. The Rams are vulnerable, ranking 27th in run defense and 23rd in scoring defense.

"We feel like we need to set the tempo," Pennington said. "We face an explosive offense and the best way to defend them is to keep them off the field."

Originally published on December 30, 2004