After the New York Jets destroyed the Buffalo Bills in the season opener, many fans of the team breathed a sigh of relief, reveling in the fact that head coach Rex Ryan had pulled a fast one on us all by "playing dead" in the preseason before unleashing a "Jets-ggernaut" against the Bills.
That same juggernaut just got jackstomped by the Pittsburgh Steelers. If that game was any indication then the problems many pundits thought the team had entering 2012—the offensive line, the running game, quarterback, etc.—are very real.
As is another problem facing the New York Jets: Their head coach isn't nearly as great as many of supporters think he is.
This isn't to say that Rex Ryan isn't a good football coach. He is and he has a great defensive mind—much more so than twin brother Rob, who has made a career of riding the family name's coattails while coordinating mediocre defenses across the National Football League.
Ryan enjoyed a great deal of early success, with the Jets advancing to the AFC Championship in each of his first two seasons. That success, combined with his sense of humor and penchant for salty language, made him wildly popular with fans, his players and much of the media.
In fact, that popularity may be Ryan's biggest problem; ever since he bought into it the Jets have been headed downhill.
Ryan began the 2011 season by predicting publicly that the Jets would advance to the Super Bowl. The team then hitched and lurched its way to an 8-8 season and missed the playoffs entirely after a season-ending meltdown against the Miami Dolphins that included the hissy fit and benching of wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
As Johnette Howard of ESPN reported, Ryan acknowledged after the season that "he'd lost the pulse" of his locker room. More importantly, he's lost control of it. He tried to crack down during training camp, although, frankly, I don't know if he can get it back at this point.
Sure, some of that absolutely lies at the feet of players such as Holmes, grown men who should know when to shut the heck up and let their play do the talking. However, part of the blame also lies with Ryan. While his popularity with his players may be nice, the simple fact is, much like with kids needing parents, players need coaches, not friends.
Bill Belichick may not be buddy-buddy with his players, but they have his respect, and they sure don't pop off or pull the sort of nonsense that has become far too common with Gang Green.
Finally, for a coach who seems like a control freak, either Rex Ryan doesn't have as much pull within the organization as he pretends to or he's flat off his nut. Otherwise, the most baffling personnel decision of the offseason never would have happened.
Most people believed that the Jets' acquisition of Tim Tebow would eventually lead to controversy in the Big Apple. It took all of two weeks and one quarterback face-planting from quarterback Mark Sanchez (A Sanchez face-plant? Stunner.) against the Steelers before questions about Tebow's role in the offense—and calls for it to grow—grew in number. Not surprisingly, the often gruff Ryan did not take especially well to this according to Seth Walder of The New York Daily News.
"I'm never going to give you a legitimate answer. I think I know the answer but I'm not going to give it to you," Ryan said before practice on Wednesday. "It's in our best interest that our opponents don't know exactly how many it is going to be. We control it," Ryan added. "The media's not going to drive it."
Rex, the writing's been on that wall since the day the trade was announced. The Jets were already divided enough. Begging for more trouble with a quarterback who can't throw was either borne of greed (selling tickets) or masochism. Take your pick.
Is Rex Ryan a "great" head coach?
As I said earlier, I'm not saying that all is lost in New York. Nor am I saying that Ryan is a bad coach—I watch one of those every time I turn on a Browns game, so I'm familiar with what one looks like.
I'll even grant you that much of Ryan's being overrated probably lies at the feet of sportswriters such as myself. Ryan had success early and he's a fun coach to cover and write about, so it was easy to put him on a pedestal of sorts.
The problem is that Ryan began to believe some of what was written about him. Jets fans better hope that Ryan was serious about "re-evaluating his management style and the downside of how he behaves" (according to Ms. Howard). If he wasn't, the myth will continue to overshadow the man, the losses will pile up and all that we'll have left to talk about is Tim Tebow.
Believe me, nobody wants that.