Rex Ryan, like Bill Belichick, is the son of a football coach, though any similarity pretty much ends there. Rex is loud. Rex calls attention to himself. Rex prides himself on being one of the guys. But the question today, and going forward, is whether Rex is really the man who can change the hierarchy in the AFC East.
The apple does not fall far from the tree, as the saying goes, and that has never been truer as the Patriots and Jets prepare to renew acquaintances this week. The son of a former Navy coach renowned for tactical brilliance, the surgical Belichick is in the process of rebuilding the Patriots. His counterpart remains Ryan, whose father (the inimitable Buddy Ryan) is regarded as a defensive mastermind known for emotional outbursts and an in-your-face mentality, regardless of what side you were on. Just ask Kevin Gilbride, who once served as the offensive coordinator of a Houston Oilers outfit on which Buddy Ryan oversaw the defense – and a man whom Buddy Ryan attempted to cold-cock on the sideline, during a game, before unforgettably referring to Gilbride’s run-and-shoot offense as the "chuck-and-duck."
And so it is with the Patriots and Jets, the former of whom are taught to think before they act, the latter of whom hit first and ask questions later.
A suggestion: if you have not read this feature on Ryan in this week’s New York Times magazine, carve out some time (it’s long) and do so. You will learn that Ryan is dyslexic, that he has an uncanny, Rain Man-like ability to break down schemes in real time and that his players positively adore him. You will absolutely come away liking him. You will also learn that Ryan is rather boisterous, buffoonish and a bit of a windbag, the last of which was certainly reflected in "Hard Knocks," the HBO series that profiled these Jets and put as much pressure on them as Ryan has.
Ryan and the Jets clearly like to put themselves out there, which will make for a fabulous story if the Jets go out and win the Super Bowl this year. Or, for that matter, if they don’t.
Which raises the question:
Are Ryan and the Jets more interested in the attention that comes with pursuing a title or winning it, with the proverbial capture or the kill?
Of course, this is New England, where we have been taught to believe in Bill’s Way as if it were the only way, which, in fact, it is not. And yet, the question persists. When Bill Parcells came to the Patriots, for instance, he brought a certain charisma and no-nonsense approach that the Patriots desperately needed at that time, if for no other reason than the Pats were a laughingstock. The Patriots then needed Parcells’ personality as much as they needed his football know-how, and the Parcells persona was a critical part of bringing credibility to Foxborough. Parcells was in charge. Parcells was bigger than life. And Parcells let you know it.
But Parcells never won a Super Bowl in New England, either, and the Pats didn’t reach their pinnacle until Belichick took them to the next level.
All of that brings us back to Ryan, who certainly has put the Jets back on the map with a hard-hitting defense and voluminous presence. Last year, before the Jets played the Pats for the first time in an identical Week 2 matchup, Ryan recorded a voice mail message that was delivered to all Jets season-ticket holders. He constantly refers to Belichick and the Patriots, mostly by saying he is not afraid of them, begging the question of whether Ryan doth protest too much or whether the Jets are merely trying to further distance themselves from the reign of Belichick disciple Eric Mangini. The Jets beat up the Pats in Week 2 last season and lost to them later in the year, though New York finished the season far more impressively, sneaking into the playoffs before making into the AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts.
On the whole, New York’s 2009 season was far more of a success than New England’s was, and Ryan’s Jets put their money where their sizable coach’s sizable mouth was.
Give 'em credit.
The 2009 Jets backed it up.
If Ryan was trying to instill some pride, confidence and credibility into the Jets organization, he has done it.
The remaining question, naturally, is whether Ryan is truly the man who can bring a Super Bowl to New York, a matter that Ryan is confronting, unsurprisingly, head on. On more than one occasion, Ryan has said that anything short of a Super Bowl title this year would be a failure. Maybe that is Ryan’s way of teaching his team how to deal with pressure, to embrace the opportunity rather than to flee from it. In the process, he has made not made the Jets a target as much as he has made them an object of scrutiny.
On Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens – the team for which Ryan served as defensive coordinator before taking control of the Jets – New York finished with a laughable 60 yards passing and six first downs, one of which was converted by penalty. New York itself committed a preposterous 14 penalties for 125 yards, the latter of which nearly matched New York’s entire offensive output for the game (176 yards). The Jets fumbled three times and looked sloppy, undisciplined and, at times, downright stupid.
But to be fair, at least they did not look scared.
This season, as much as any other in recent history, the AFC East seems wide open. Belichick is in New England, Ryan in New York, Parcells in Miami, although he's in management, not on the sideline. All three teams have a shot at the title. Ryan’s philosophies and credibility are far more at stake than those of either Belichick or Parcells, accomplished NFL lifers who are headed to the most exclusive areas in Canton. And he has waged an incredible amount on this season, which may forever forge his legacy.
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