NEW YORK -- The New York Jets finally have a new owner. That doesn't mean their other major problem -- the vacant coaching position -- will be settled soon.
At least now Bill Parcells knows whom to talk to: philanthropist Robert Wood Johnson IV, an heir to the family fortune of the Johnson & Johnson health care conglomerate.
Pending NFL approval, which could come as early as Jan. 18, Johnson purchased the team Tuesday from the estate of the late Leon Hess for $635 million -- the highest price for an established team with no stadium.
Although he is not allowed to conduct any team business before the approval, Johnson may consult with chief of football operations Parcells about the unusual coaching situation.
"I am looking forward to meeting Mr. Johnson," was all that Parcells would say in a statement.
"While we have been selected by the Hess estate as the winning bid for the New York Jets, we still have to win the approval of the NFL owners," Johnson said. "While it would be inappropriate to comment on any matters before we receive such approval, I do intend to have preliminary conversations with both (Jets president) Steve Gutman and Bill Parcells at the earliest possible moment."
After the Hess estate recommended Johnson's offer, the NFL's eight-man finance committee unanimously approved the bid. The owners will meet in New York on Jan. 18, with the sale on the agenda. If it is not approved then by three-fourths of the 31 owners, it would be delayed until Super Bowl week.
But Johnson, who runs several philanthropic foundations and is the grandson of the former chairman of Johnson & Johnson, is expected to get quick approval. Several owners lobbied in his favor over Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan, the other finalist, who owns Madison Square Garden and the New York Rangers and Knicks.
"We are obviously pleased and excited to have the opportunity to own the New York Jets," Johnson said. "We hope that we can be successful in fulfilling Mr. Hess's dream of developing the New York Jets into a championship team."
Dolan, who apparently scared some team owners because of his widespread sports holdings, said:
"I first want to thank the Hess family and trustees for their consideration of our offer. While I am personally disappointed, I have enjoyed working with the Hess family throughout this process and hold them in the highest regard.
"My primary motivation for seeking the Jets was to field a team that could compete for a championship and make the Jets fans proud. I congratulate Woody Johnson and his wife, Sale, who I know share that goal. Woody will be an outstanding owner, and I will be rooting for him and the team," Dolan said.
And who will be coaching that team? Parcells stepped down Jan. 3, only to see hand-chosen successor Bill Belichick quit the next day. Belichick filed a grievance with the league over his contract, which stipulated he be elevated to head coach once Parcells left the job.
The NFL will hold a hearing Thursday on Belichick's contract, but no decision on his status is expected this week. Belichick wants to talk to the New England Patriots about their vacant head coaching position, but the Jets would demand compensation from the Patriots -- or any team -- because Belichick's contract has three years remaining.
Unless, of course, the NFL finds reason to void the contract.
It's been a difficult year for the franchise. Hess, an owner since 1963, died in May. His will stipulated that the team be sold, and the process took nearly a month longer than expected.
The team, expected to compete for the Super Bowl after going 12-4 in 1998 and making the AFC title game, was ravaged by injuries and finished 8-8. Then came the coaching mess.
Tuesday's announcement was the first positive step for the franchise since the season ended with a four-game winning streak. It fetched far more than the projected price tag of $500 million; only the expansion Houston team, awarded late last year, and the Washington Redskins, whose $800 million price also included their stadium, were sold for more.
Until Johnson is approved as the new owner, John Hess, the son of Leon Hess, and Gutman will continue to run the team. Parcells remains in charge of all football decisions.
"The late Leon Hess was the proud owner of the Jets since 1963," the Jets said. "He had a special love for the team and its many loyal fans. The Hess family will remain strong supporters of the Jets and wish Mr. Johnson, Bill Parcells and the entire Jets organization and players every success in the future."
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