The T-Rex of coaching resides with the Jets
PHOTOS () —
By Mike Jensen
The Philadelphia Inquirer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A football coach who enjoys talking — imagine that.
Rex Ryan, the rookie New York Jets head coach and son of Buddy, has a lot of the NFL playoff spotlight right now because he is new and fresh with the underdog team — and because he's entirely comfortable showing some personality.
In his public duties, Ryan is the anti-Reid, the antithesis of Andy, or, really, of Bill Belichick or most of their coaching brethren.
"Everything he's thinking, he puts out there," said Jets center Nick Mangold.
Look at the coaches remaining as the Jets go to Indianapolis for Sunday's AFC title game, for the right to meet the winner of the NFC championship game between New Orleans and Minnesota in the Super Bowl. Colts coach Jim Caldwell is mostly known now as the guy who pulled Peyton Manning and ruined the chance for a perfect season. Vikings coach Brad Childress is best known right now for his attempts to keep Brett Favre from freelancing too much. Saints coach Sean Payton is a great coach, but how many people could pick him out if he walked into a room?
In this company, Ryan is the prime-timer.
Comfortable in his own ample skin, Ryan ignores the memo that he works in the No Fun League. He eats so much Mexican food that his assistants call it "Rexican" food? Ryan puts down 7,000 calories a day during the season? When the New York Post threw out that number this week, and put his weight at 350 pounds, Ryan didn't wait for any follow-ups the next day.
"I'm feeling a little faint right now — I've only had 6,000 of the 7,000 calories I normally eat by now. You'll have to bear with me on that," Ryan deadpanned Wednesday before reciting the injury list.
Before the season, Ryan had blustered, "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings." Shades of his father, Ryan also matter-of-factly predicted a meeting for his team with Barack Obama at the White House after winning the Super Bowl.
In the locker room, Jets players didn't take it as just rah-rah talk.
"It might (sound) like a small thing, but goal-setting is so huge — to see what you want to achieve," Jets linebacker David Harris said this week. "At the beginning of the year, Rex Ryan said, 'Hey, we're going to win the Super Bowl.' ... Not too many coaches do that. He showed us a picture of the Super Bowl trophy the first time we met him."
Before the playoffs, Ryan did something similar, giving the team a full playoff itinerary, ending with the route of the victory parade after their Super Bowl triumph.
Does Ryan worry that any of his brash talk could ever adversely affect his team?
"No, I don't," Ryan said. "I think you better believe in yourself — you better believe in your football team. That's all it is. There's never a disrespectful thing. I don't try to say anything disrespectful to the opponents that we're playing. It's all about our football team and the belief that we have."
Then, Ryan said, "The only time I wish I had a mute button is when "NFL Films has me miked up for a game. Sometimes that one's brutal."
He means the bleeps, the expletives that need to be deleted.
Considered one of the top defensive gurus in the league from his years with the Ravens, Ryan has confidence coupled with a willingness to share the credit.
"I am humble," he said, agreeing with a player who had described him that way. In an interview during training camp, Ryan said he learned both what to do and what not to do from his father's head-coaching time, especially with the Eagles.
"The media just has a job to do. The media is not the enemy," Ryan said of what his father could have done better. "Looking back, maybe he would have treated it a little bit differently."
Ryan said that in the middle of a 40-minute phone interview one night during training camp. Ryan wasn't in any hurry to get off the phone. It was the day Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson died, and he began talking about Johnson as soon as he got on the phone before switching and talking about his dad's Eagles years and his own family history.
Good media relations are nice. But if there weren't quick results to go along with the talk, would Ryan's early bluster have come off as false in the Jets' locker room?
"I don't think so," said 10th-year NFL veteran James Dearth, the Jets' long snapper. "If we had never won a game this year, I know Rex Ryan is passionate about what he does. I mean, from Day One, we didn't really know him, but we knew he was the real deal. What you see is what you get."
And that's not always sweetness and light, Dearth said.
"You look him in the eye and he just tells you the truth," Dearth said. "As a man, you've got to look truth in the face. When Rex says something and you don't like it, you've got to look at yourself and say, 'You know what, he's right. You've got to deal with it.' "
A bad snap by Dearth led to a blocked field goal late in a 10-7 loss to Atlanta in December.
"He called me into his office and said, 'Hey, I'm behind you,' " Dearth said. "He didn't have to do that."
He may win the news conferences, but to date, Ryan hasn't achieved a fraction of what Reid has done as a head coach. The Jets needed some luck to make the playoffs or nobody would be bothering with him right now, relating how the Jets' coach showed a highlight reel of Mike Tyson knockouts to fire up his team before last week's upset in San Diego.
Next season, none of this will seem so fresh. Ryan might find out what raised expectations can do for approval ratings. He laughed as he told about listening to being ripped on the radio coming into work one morning after a bad loss.
Dialing back the bluster a bit, Ryan didn't promise a Jets win on Sunday, just that everyone would see "the loosest team" that ever played in an AFC title game. A team in his own image.
"We're just going to be ourselves," Ryan said.
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