Rex Ryan was brimming with confidence when he took over as Jets coach, but it wasn’t blustery for the sake of noise, it was real. Bringing along the 46 defense and a reputation for speaking his mind, Ryan swaggered into the Tri-State area trying to change the Jets culture from one expecting to be the second class citizen in area football and a punching bag that folded or found some clever way to lose when they were on the cusp of something special.
It’s no wonder the Jets and Mets have long been associated as brothers in innovative failure.
Ryan’s personality and looseness are designed to attract players. Whether that attraction is due to the fine line of letting the players be themselves or having zero discipline is an important question. His father, Buddy, was known for building great defenses; feistiness; the close relationships he forged with his players; fighting with management, fellow and opposing coaches; and losing in the playoffs.
Up until now, Rex Ryan’s mouth has mostly been backed up by consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game. They lost both games because the Jets, based on ability, had no right to be there to begin with. They were lucky; they were opportunistic; they were pretty good; and they were playing with house money.
House money is an interesting analogy considering Ryan’s penchant for his mouth being the equivalent of the purple suited, high-rolling pimp riding up in an Escalade and emerging in all his gaudiness, resplendent rings (one being of the Super Bowl variety won as a Ravens assistant) decorating both hands, and a booming voice designed to have the masses turn and look at him as he struts into the casino flashing wads of cash, ready for action.
The attention is the key and it’s meaningless to him whether it’s because they’re irritated by him or impressed with his brashness.
The problem with that for one who’s operating on the wrong side of societal propriety is that the attention can cause unwanted legal entanglements.
For a football coach, it makes the rest of the league, fans and media want that gauche figure to be put in his place—especially in the insular and mostly conservative world of football.
This season, the Jets were supposed to take the next step from back-to-back second place finishers in the AFC to the elite in the game.
I’m not going to start delving out of my realm and try to find reasons why the Jets ended up 8-8 and didn’t follow through on Ryan’s guarantee of a Super Bowl, but I can discuss what I know about people and the influence his pronouncements of greatness and superiority have had on his team’s results; that he’s rapidly gone from moderately entertaining to tiresome to borderline delusional.
Comparisons of the Jets to teams that maintained the perception of lax discipline or were the preferred destinations for ne’er-do-wells and malcontents fall flat when they’re examined in depth.
The Raiders were known as a halfway house for players whom no other team could control or whose talent couldn’t be unlocked under conventional football-style disciplines; the truth was that in their heyday, John Madden and Tom Flores were in charge of their teams and Al Davis was always hovering around as a powerful figure who could not only keep the players from crossing that fine line between being edgy but worthwhile and more trouble than they were worth. Push Davis too far and there was a great chance a player would never find another job in football—not just as a player, but period.
The Cowboys of the 1990s had a similar aura of chaos, but Jimmy Johnson was able to play ringleader to Jerry Jones’s circus and keep the Michael Irvins of his team off the police blotter. When Barry Switzer took over, it was a free-for-all; there was no one to slam down the hammer because the head coach and the owner were acting just as self-indulgently as the players were and the requisite hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do” didn’t exist under Switzer because he didn’t want to be seen as a hypocrite.
But it’s the coach’s job to be a hypocrite.
Those Cowboys managed to win another championship under Switzer, but the wheels came off shortly thereafter in part because of that cannibalistic hubris.
If a coach or player is going to open each press conference with continuous proclamations of his own greatness, then he’d better come through.
Mark Messier, Jimmy Rollins and Joe Namath made their guarantees and performed in their games to make the guarantees come to pass. Realistically, what would’ve happened had the Rangers lost in 1994? Had the 2007 Phillies not come back to catch and pass the Mets? Had the Jets of 1968-1969 not won the Super Bowl? Nothing. But because these men said they were going to win and did, they became legends. That it was circumstantial is irrelevant.
No one remembers those who said they were going to win and didn’t, but they’re going to remember Ryan because he says the same things over and over and refuses to back down; the more something is said, the less meaning it has.
Even if the Jets do win at some point following another Ryan decree, what good did it do if, on the 50th, he happened to be right? It’s as if he’s playing darts with a blindfold and saying he’ll hit the bullseye. Eventually, he’ll hit it. So?
The Jets are a rogue outfit under the stewardship of a coach who doesn’t have the first concept of taking the toys away from his spoiled brats.
Compromising principles for expediency will eventually come full circle and haunt the transgressor; he may still achieve the initial goal because of that concession, but a price needs to be paid.
The problem the Jets have is that Ryan doesn’t seem to have principles to compromise. It’s all full speed ahead; double, triple and quadruple down on the high-rolling bet he made at the beginning.
Interestingly Tom Coughlin, the coach that beat Ryan last week and is the polar opposite in terms of personality and the way he handles his lockerroom, was considered the fascist that no one wanted to play for when he had endless rules and regulations for the expansion Jaguars. In this Sports Illustrated article, Coughlin summed it up perfectly in the following clip:
“Let me say this,” he said, pointing an index finger at a camp visitor. “You only get one time to make a first impression. You can’t start easy and then get strict on players.”
Ryan can’t maintain this roster, come storming into camp in 2012 and say, “That’s it, I’m pulling in the reins!” First, no one would buy into it because that’s not his style—he can’t be someone he’s not and remain authentic; second, if the Jets are going to purge the problem people on the team, they’re looking at a significant alteration in their personnel from the one that Ryan guaranteed was winning the Super Bowl this season. If he’s allowed to do it, he’d better win because few if any coaches get a third rebuild.
In this Wall Street Journal report of today’s elimination loss to the Dolphins, Ryan somewhat adjusted his over-the-top persona:
“I’m always going to chase the Super Bowl,” Ryan said. “If you don’t, you’re going to be a loser. You have to have the guts to go for that.”
There’s a slight difference between “chasing” and “guaranteeing”.
Because of Ryan’s decision to administrate his team in this way—with the inmates running the asylum and a conscious choice to make outrageous statements—the Jets can’t drastically reset their template even if they get rid of some players and assistant coaches.
This is it.
The coach needs to shut up.
But we all know he won’t.
And by now, he can’t.