The New York Jets got themselves a new owner yesterday. Now all they need is a head coach.
The estate of late owner Leon Hess announced the sale of the team to Robert Wood Johnson IV, a pharmaceutical heir and philanthropist who bid $635 million for a team that is in some turmoil since Bill Parcells announced he would no longer coach the team. His heir apparent, Bill Belichick, declined to take the job, citing uncertainty over the new ownership.
The sale, conducted by Goldman Sachs on behalf of the estate, also got the blessing yesterday of the league's eight member finance committee, meeting in New York. They recommended the sale unanimously to their fellow owners, who will vote on it at a league meeting in New York next week. Three-quarters of the 31 owners is needed for formal approval, and that is not expected to be a problem.
Johnson won out in the bidding over a group headed by Charles Dolan, chairman of Cablevision Systems Corp., a cable TV company that also owns Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks and Rangers. Dolan's ownership could have created potential problems with the league's rules barring corporate ownership of teams. Several owners had said privately they would be opposed to approving him.
Dolan's brother Larry also recently purchased the Cleveland Indians, further complicating matters because he was considered a front man for Charles Dolan. The league also had concerns about its cross-ownership policies being broached if Charles Dolan won the bidding.
"He's a great New York sports fan, and there were no complications," Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said of Johnson. "[That] was very important."
Johnson's family started Johnson & Johnson and has a far-lower profile than Dolan, something many owners preferred. The league would have forced Dolan to completely separate the team from Cablevision and his other professional sports franchises. Dolan has tried and failed three times to secure an NFL team, finishing second in the expansion process in Cleveland, and early on considering a bid on the Washington Redskins before dropping out.
"My primary motivation for seeking the Jets was to field a team that could compete for a championship and make Jets fans proud," Dolan said in a statement. "Woody will be an outstanding owner, and I will be rooting for him and the team."
The first order of business for Johnson will be to sort out the coaching situation. Belichick, who had a contract stating he would take over the team when Parcells stepped down, resigned citing uncertainty over the sale by the estate of Hess, who died last year. The NFL has scheduled a hearing Thursday to decide whether to void the contract and allow Belichick to consider offers from other teams.
The purchase price for a team that does not play in its own stadium was slightly higher than most analysts had estimated and continues the trend of escalating prices for NFL franchises.
Texas billionaire Bob McNair agreed in October to pay $700 million for a Houston expansion team that will begin play in 2002. That followed Daniel M. Snyder's $800 million deal to buy the Redskins and their stadium.