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Down For the Count
Austin Murphy
December 30, 1996
The Jets said so long to coach Rich Kotite by losing a club-record 15th game, to the Dolphins
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December 30, 1996

Down For The Count

The Jets said so long to coach Rich Kotite by losing a club-record 15th game, to the Dolphins

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And who knows that better than free safety Gene Atkins? On Oct. 6 the Dolphins were ahead of the Seattle Seahawks until Atkins was beaten on an intermediate crossing route. Wideout Brian Blades turned the catch into an 80-yard touchdown with 2:03 left, and Seattle won 22-15. The next afternoon Johnson made the following announcement to reporters: "I don't want you to take this as anything negative about Gene Atkins, but we have released him."

Who would want a meanie like him for a coach? Several Jets, that's who. "We need someone to put his foot down," says strong safety Victor Green. "We need someone who will get the guys to lift weights, to come watch film. We need a more aggressive coach. We need harder practices, longer practices. We need a coach who's going to fine guys, for whatever reason. [Under Kotite] guys did what they wanted to."

Keyshawn Johnson, the Jets' outspoken rookie wide receiver, seconds the motion. Last Saturday he declared, "I would love a coach like Jimmy Johnson, someone who would come in here and take control of the ship, someone who won't take no s—-."

Keyshawn, the No. 1 pick in last spring's draft, has a book coming out in April. Its title, Just Give Me the Damn Ball, reflects the frustration he felt this season. He was often at odds with offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt, developed virtually no relationship with O'Donnell and even begrudged Chrebet his 84 catches this season.

Keyshawn, who finished with 63 receptions, felt Jets quarterbacks were a bit fainthearted: too quick to dump the ball off to Chrebet rather than look downfield for him. "You need to know who your play-makers are," he says. Did he ever give O'Donnell a piece of his mind? "I'll get him in the book," says Keyshawn. "Then I'll have to play with him five years. Hopefully, he'll shove it down my throat to prove me wrong."

Kotite played at Wagner College on Staten Island, Chrebet and Jets rookie guard Dave Fiore at Hofstra on Long Island. "We lead the league in guys from Hofstra," says Keyshawn acidly. "We've got more guys from Hofstra than we do from USC or Notre Dame." Both Kotite and Chrebet reached the NFL against all odds, and the coach never made a secret of his affection for the plucky wideout. Their bond bugged Keyshawn, whose teammates know the quickest way to get his goat is to say, "Chrebet's going to make the Pro Bowl!"

Last season Chrebet caught 66 passes, a Jets rookie record. Keyshawn came into Sunday's game needing seven receptions to break that mark. "What do you think?" he sarcastically asked a reporter the day before the game. "You think I'll get the record?"

Keyshawn had three catches on Sunday. "What did I tell you?" he shouted, upon seeing the reporter as he came off the field. "What did I tell you?" Before entering the dressing room, he said, "I am so glad this season's over, it's not even funny." He showered, changed and was one of the first Jets out of the locker room, stopping only to flip his playbook into a trash can.

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