In 2009, Rex Ryan was hired as the head coach of the NY Jets, and he wasted no time making bold predictions about finally making the ‘Same ol’ Jets’ a contender after 40 years of anemic football.
Things started off well, going 3-0 to start, but quickly turned ugly as the team dropped six of the next seven games. By week 10, Rex got his first taste what an endearing sports town the Big Apple can be, a city where they love building someone up just to later chop them down. With all his early bravado, including a Super Bowl prediction a la Broadway Joe, being what he himself mistakenly deemed “mathematically out of it” before December was a perfect time to start swinging the ax, and with four decades worth of scars left by the horribly coached teams of Jets football past, it wasn’t hard to get the local venom spewing.
But Rex didn’t back down, continuing to insist that while he knows we’re “tired of hearing it, this is a good football team.” He said that with a smirk, sitting at 4-6 in his first year ever as a head coach, leading a team that had become so synonymous with failure, they were well known by their appropriate acronym, Just End The Season. He said it in front of the cruelest media on the planet, with the lynch-mob of millions that they rally each week with their tabloid sports coverage watching at home, knowing that, at that moment, all they saw in him was the third straight failed attempt by their miserable franchise to give some up and coming “genius” his first shot in the NFL at the expense of the team’s relevance.
Fast forward through some 42 disparaging headlines and the Jets were in the playoffs, enroute to make the most noise in the history of the franchise, post-Joe, winning big games on the road to advance within one game of the Super Bowl for only their second time since 1982. He also managed to put a top defense on the field all year and split the season series long dominated by their division bully Patriots, among other notable strides made in year one. So, about 12 weeks worth of “Rex is a bust” rhetoric, bestowed on him in every newspaper by the very folks to whom he gave football life, got tossed in the trash. Rex was the man, for a minute.
Next year, 2010, the Jets started the season on the map and were the feature team on HBO’s HardKnocks, during which time Rex became a national celebrity, and the Jets became the most talked about team, not only in N.Y., where they had broken a forty year stint as the town’s official second fiddle, despite the fact that their “big brother,” the NY Giants were only two years removed from the Super Bowl!
Sure, they were coming off a rather impressive season, finishing in the final four, but make no mistake, it was nothing more than Rex Ryan’s personality, his bravado, his cockiness, his arrogance, and his sense of humor, all on national, Reality-TV, display that made the Jets the talk of the town in 2010.
Just like that, the New York Jets were scheduled for three Monday Night Games, two Sunday Night games, and a Thursday Night game that season. Before Rex, that would typically constitute their prime time exposure for the decade. They had become a primetime team, and they were winning like one, sitting at 9-2 after 11 games.
Players around the league started voicing their desire to come play for Rex Ryan, including the entire Ravens defense. The players were doing something their fans hadn’t seen since they stopped Mark Gastineau from doing it about 25 years ago having fun. They did the “plane.” They did the “jumping ass-bump” with Rex himself; it was more than just organized celebrations, it was the sign of a cohesive team.
Meanwhile, the Jet defense was becoming a force of its own, as Rex showed his prowess by overcoming a non-existent pass-rush to become the best in the league defending the pass. Life was certainly good in Jetville, even with the week 12 spanking at the hands of the Patriots, 45-3, again splitting the series, they were still 9-3 and in every discussion concerning the post-season and even the Super Bowl.
Although, you wouldn’t know that by reading the news. Amid all the bliss for Jet fans in 2010, the talk regarding Rex Ryan was never about the miraculous job he’d done up to that point, transforming a team that had chewed up and spit out 13 head coaches before him, but rather it was always about how his bravado somehow HURTS the team! Even with the team hitting their finest stride yet, the basic feeling, in so many words, was that he caused a backlash that made him more of a detriment to the team than the savior of the franchise.
Part of it was definitely the Super Bowl guarantee. New York fans especially, still remember Patrick Ewing’s empty promise, for one. In fact, I will agree that nobody, after Joe Namath, should be allowed to make such a prediction. Period. However, considering the circumstances, to focus on that one sentence above all else is nit-picky at the least. I suppose the theory would be that it’s their nature (and their job) to find something negative in a sea of positives, something that he has failed to deliver, except that even his Super Bowl aspirations at that point, something the franchise and its fans haven’t had since NASA supposedly landed on the moon, were still very reachable, and had been all year.
Still, a bad loss to the Pats and the following week against the lowly Dolphins, down the stretch were enough to keep the doubters accusing him of hurting the team with his talk, all the way up until the playoff showdown in Foxboro where he and his sophomore QB walked in to hostile territory and outcoached/outplayed the unbeatable Patriots in their own stadium. Sure, his smoke and mirrors act was enough to squeeze out a couple lucky wins and get to their second AFC title game in two years, but in the end, Rex proved that he was incapable of winning the big one when again, his overconfidence caused the team to come out flat against the Steelers, and they fell short again. Another disappointment from Rex Ryan, who was nothing more than a “stand-up act,” as was the topic of a column by mainstay New York sports writer, Mike Lupica, whose team melted when it really mattered.
What sounds like sarcasm was the exact opinion of local and national sports analysts after the season, as if a silly (albeit ill-advised) prediction negates what was accomplished. And now in year three, in what has been a streaky, roller-coaster season for Gang Green, I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard the same vitriol, as it is guaranteed to be the “take” of at least one stuffed shirt each weekend.
It’s hard to blame them, I suppose. It is their job, and we are, by nature, always looking for short cuts at work; this is one of them. Getting material out of Rex is simple, like for instance, making it seem as if he is “dissing” the opposing head coach the week prior to a match-up. This is a favorite of theirs that they’ve used quite often. Because he is a straight-shooter with a sense of humor and a fierce competitor who is confident in himself and in his team, even in the face of heavy scrutiny, yet still remains lighthearted and doesn’t take himself or the sport too seriously. All of those terrible qualities in a person, especially a football coach, he will deliver every week.
For example, by complimenting the Chargers’ front office before their last meeting, he was disrespecting their coach, Norv Turner. By striving to be better than his division nemesis, Bill Bellicheck (and doing it), he was no less than a heretic. Most recently, by wanting to be “King of New York,” by beating the Giants on Christmas Eve, or at least setting that theme as something to build on, while also burying a horrid performance last week quickly in the past, he is sneezing in the direction of the Giants’ coaching staff and the entire history of the franchise (the audacity of which caused ex-Giant and Fox analyst, Michael Strahan, to read off a few lines from the “How to Blast Rex Ryan” talking points memo, himself this week.)
In addition to the ready made storyline every time he gets near a microphone, there is another dynamic at play here. It is that large, and extremely outspoken, demographic in this country that is behind all things politically correct, that group devoid of what we call a sense of humor, the hyper-sensitive complainers, who have created this bizarro world where a guy like Rex Ryan is seen as a harmful addition to anything related to professional football.
It is the same group of people who will ‘lose respect’ for an athlete who does something so special that less than .00000002% of people alive will ever get a chance to even attempt, so special that half the country may tune in to watch him do it, and something that took every ounce of his adrenaline charged emotion at that moment to pull off, against the will of others just as fierce and determined, because he may then celebrate with so much as a wiggle or perhaps a loosely rehearsed two-step. Meanwhile, each person in that same joyless bunch, would probably do somersaults after winning a raffle at their local church.
So, here in 2011, in a year when Rex Ryan should have been given a pass to go 0-16, with what he’s already accomplished, the road was as rocky as ever, at times looking very bleak for the “not the same ol’ Jets. Yet, with two games left in another season full of hacking away at the coach, ready to yell, “timber!” at any moment, constantly declaring that they will never win it all as long as he was in charge, and basically doubting him and his team at every difficult turn, a pair of wins can assure them of a return to the playoffs for the third straight year, adding yet another franchise “first” to his already lengthy catalog.
And during it all, Rex still doesn’t blink! Much like when he chose to have back-up QB Mark Brunnell take a few of Mark Sanchez’ snaps with the first team in practice. While every member of the team press hammered him for “messing with his player’s head,” he made a laugh of it, and the visibly sulky Sanchez answered with three of his best games all year. It’s almost as if he knew something we don’t. Imagine that.
As he said last year on HardKnocks, maybe by growing up on NFL sidelines watching his father, Buddy Ryan, coach the greatest defense ever assembled, alongside Mike Ditka, and otherwise splatter #1’s across many defensive rankings in his years as head coach of Philadelphia and Arizona (not to mention inventing his own defensive scheme)…he might have picked up a thing or two.
Indeed, along with his innovative (and effective) blitz packages, one piece of advice he certainly got from his dad, a character in his own day, is to be true to who you are and never change, even though you are doubted. He believes in himself, the 52 players in that locker room believe in him, and so do I. So far, there’s no reason not to.
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