— CORTLAND, NY - Rex Ryan waited a long time for his seat at the head coaches table.
Now that he’s gotten it, he’s not about to sit quietly with his napkin on his lap and engage in thoughtful and appropriate dinnertime talk.
He’s going to laugh loud, reach for the gravy, ask if he can finish your potatoes and not give a damn about which fork he should be using.
Too long, he waited. Now that he’s here, he’s going to feast.
“I’m gonna be myself,” Ryan said Wednesday after his Jets finished up an afternoon special teams practice at SUNY-Cortland.” I’ve been successful because of who I am. I’m gonna be myself and at the end of the day, I’ll feel good about it. And if it doesn’t work, at least I’m true to myself. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. And that’s how I’m approaching it. You look at all the great coaches that are out there, yet I was chosen by (owner) Woody Johnson and (GM) Mike Tannenbaum. They want me to be myself. There’s no way I’ll do it any different.”
Being himself has so far included tweaking division rival New England (“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.”), verbally sparring for a week with Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Channing Crowder (“I’ve walked over tougher guys (than Crowder) going to a fight.”), lavishing extreme praise on his own players and promising general ass-beatings throughout the league.
It is, to say the least, a departure from normal head coaching comportment. And while it certainly injects spice into the proceedings, Ryan’s words and approach can and will be used against him if the talented Jets can’t back up the boasts Ryan’s been slapping down.
That eventuality, the 46-year-old Ryan doesn’t seem to be considering. He is absolutely bursting with confidence.
Asked this week about his offensive line, Ryan said, “I don’t want to oversell, I’ll say they’ll be average. I’m just kidding. I think this can be the best offensive line in the league.”
It's a bold approach but Ryan – son of coaching icon Buddy Ryan and twin brother to Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – is simply that way.
“I don’t think you’ll find a guy more passionate about the game of football and the profession of coaching as Rex Ryan,” said the Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. “He makes you realize you can be a damn good football coach and still have fun. He has a PASSION and everyone around him feels it. It’s real. It’s not phony. It’s not fake and because the players and the coaches know it’s so pure, they buy into it and rally around him and want to help him have success. That’s to be celebrated.”
Proclamations and promises of superiority don’t necessarily translate to success, though. When Buddy Ryan took over the moribund Arizona Cardinals in 1994, he told the assembled media, “You’ve got a winner in town.” After the 1995 season in which the Cards went 4-12, Ryan was leaving town, fired by owner Bill Bidwill.
These Jets have a lot more talent than Rex’s father had with the Cardinals. But the time is drawing closer when the Jets as a team have to try and cash all the checks Rex Ryan’s been writing with his mouth.
Do they have a stacked offensive line with center Nick Mangold, guards Alan Faneca and Brandon Moore and tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody? Absolutely. And is their defense absolutely littered with talent from front to back (safety Kerry Rhodes, corner Darrelle Revis, linebackers Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace, Vernon Gholston and Bryan Thomas, defensive linemen Kris Jenkins and Shaun Ellis)? It is.
But the most important position on the field – quarterback – is a battle of unprovens between rookie Mark Sanchez and fourth-year man Kellen Clemens, a career backup. Whoever wins the job - and it’s currently up for grabs – will be in unfamiliar territory.
Meanwhile, the Jets are not deep at the skill positions. They may not allow many points. But given their offensive shortcomings, they’ll probably have a hard time scoring many.
And that’s where the authentic challenges will come in. Nobody can question Ryan’s passion or his authenticity. But what is still unproven is how good a head coach Rex Ryan will be. How good is he at making adjustments in-game? At running the whole show instead of one side of the ball? Can he be as effective as a general as he was when he was a lieutenant?
Given the bold way he’s presented himself, the pressure will be on this Jets team that finished 9-7 last year to be immediately successful.
Ryan, of course, wouldn’t want it any other way. He couldn’t present himself any other way and look himself in the mirror.
“In this league, if you’re a phony, they know you’re a phony,” said Ryan. “If you’re not a phony and you’re the real deal and you give somebody your word and you can take that to the bank, that also spreads through the league. That’s worked in my favor because I’m not a (BSer). People trust me and that’s what it’s all about.”