After reaching the AFC Championship game in his two first seasons, the fastest start for any coach in Jets history, Ryan has seen a fall from grace that even transcends the disappointing results on the field. Known more for his brash attitude and daring statements, Ryan has lost the benefit of the doubt after winning just 14 of his last 33 games.
Now, a change in general managers and a lack of a contract extension all but assures Ryan's exit from New York sooner or later. To exacerbate Ryan's situation, new management has traded his best player, Darrelle Revis, for an extra rookie to build around while letting a slew of veteran players walk in free agency.
The Jets are rebuilding while Rex is trying to win and save his job, setting up the coach for inevitable failure.
Not so fast.
No matter how bleak things look for the beleaguered head coach, the demise of Rex Ryan has been greatly exaggerated.
Rex has been down this path before. He has won in New York with a roster that was pegged for mediocrity, turning role players into stars and Pro Bowlers into all-timers.
Yes, Ryan has made his share of mistakes as head coach, which is part of the reason why he is in this position. Nonetheless, based on his pedigree of getting the most out of NFL rosters, there is little reason why Rex Ryan should not be with the Jets into 2014 and beyond.
How exactly can Ryan figure his way out of this seemingly impossible situation? First, we have to delve into just where Ryan has exhibited the coaching qualities needed to succeed in such dreary situations.
Flashback to 2009, when Florham Park was finally settling down from the drowning Brett Favre buzz, which opened the door for Rex Ryan to turn the volume back up.
With no quarterback, an average defense and few offensive weapons to lean on, it was blasphemous to pick the Jets to find a way into the postseason.
Unless you were Rex Ryan, of course.
Instead of plodding to a predictable sub-.500 record for a rookie head coach and quarterback pairing, Rex went on a playoff run that fell just a half-hour of football short of the franchise's first Super Bowl berth since 1969. He turned Darrelle Revis into a superstar, manufactured the league's best running game and hid a rookie quarterback's deficiencies.
|Year||Pass Defense||Rush Offense||Total Defense||Result|
|2008 (Before Rex)||28th||9th||17th||Missed Playoffs|
|2009 (Rex's Debut)||1st||1st||1st||Loss in AFC Championship Game|
With the exception of a few players, Ryan inherited the vast majority of his roster. All but six starters were the same from 2008 to 2009. The biggest change was clearly at quarterback, where the Jets replaced a legend in Brett Favre with a rookie with one year of starting experience at USC, Mark Sanchez.
In other words, he got every drop of talent out of a roster that had no business playing late in January—heck, even Rex thought his team was out of the race at one point.
Sure, some of this success was derived from a new coach's energy and the potential of a young quarterback.
Four years later, however, the Jets have rid the team of most of its older veterans and stars and have a young quarterback on the roster that oozes untapped potential.
Rex can no longer lean on the likes of Darrelle Revis, Mike DeVito and Thomas Jones to emerge as leaders and cornerstones of his roster. Instead, he has Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Chris Ivory to fill the void.
With a depleted roster that is reloaded with young pieces on both sides of the ball to work around, Rex has a chance to recapture the energy he displayed in 2009. In essence, this is a fresh start for Rex with a completely new roster that will allow him to have the same effect on the team as a new coach while carrying four years of experience on the job.
Contrary to popular belief, the owner, not the fans or media, gets to make the decisions as to who is going to coach his team—and Woody Johnson has been known to go against the grain in terms of making coaching and managerial decisions.
Johnson has always had a good relationship with Rex Ryan. He basks in the extra attention. Not once did he tell Rex to stop with his outlandish statements.
When Eric Mangini was fired after a winning season in 2008, he retained general manager Mike Tannenbaum, despite mounting speculation to the contrary.
Why was Tannenbaum retained in 2008? In short, because Johnson felt "comfortable" with Tannenbaum. He understood that there was talent on the team, but the mysterious atmosphere created by the coaching staff was the problem.
Conversely, in 2012, it was easy to see that a lack of talent was the culprit for the 6-10 2012 season, and Tannenbaum, not Ryan, was axed.
Woody Johnson leaves a lot to be desired as an owner, but he does have a good sense for what is wrong with his team and who is the most responsible, ignoring the deafening tone of the fans and media.
After all, for an owner who just traded Darrelle Revis, why would he follow suit and fire Ryan simply because he was expected to be fired? If coaching truly is the problem and the Jets are not competing, Ryan should worry—but if he gets the most out of a young roster, Johnson will not immediately pull the plug on the Rex regime just because of a poor record.
A New Source of Motivation
Rex has always been at his best when the odds are stacked against him.
In 2009, he claimed his sixth-seeded squad with 50-1 odds to win the Super Bowl should have been favored to win the tournament. The following year, his team was the only group able to upset the Patriots in Foxborough in the divisional playoffs—just over a month after losing 45-3 in the same building.
Rex has operated with a chip on his shoulder for a long time.
After reaching his goal of becoming an NFL head coach, fueling Ryan early in his tenure with the Jets was the fact that the Ravens, along with several other teams, passed him over for head-coaching jobs (via ESPN):
Coaching in Baltimore 10 years and then not getting the job, that's a thing that drives me...as much as I respect the people in the Ravens' organization, they never thought I could do the job, and that's a major chip on my shoulder.
Now four years into the job, Ryan finds himself with an entirely new set of challenges. The Jets have taken a serious beating in the media, and the Jets brand has become synonymous with failure. Ryan knows that he is assumed to be a "lame duck" coach by most of the media.
Now, Rex Ryan has found a new batch of doubters that don't believe he has what it takes to retain his right to coach the Jets:
"To say that I don't have a chip on my shoulder ... well I'm going to show ya," he said. "I think that's how I've always been."
So far, Rex has been able to use outside motivation to his advantage, and with a new array of challenges, he has a new set of motivational tools to propel him.
Getting Back to Being Rex
So, what exactly does Rex Ryan have to do to remove this burdensome "chip" and get back to being the successful coach?
It all goes back to him being himself. Ryan cannot be afraid to ruffle some feathers just because it will land him on the front page of the Post.
Not long ago, there was a time where Rex had a harder time controlling his Mexican food cravings than winning football games, no matter who his quarterback was. Now over 100 pounds lighter, Ryan needs to direct his focus to getting back to being the coach he was when he was at the height of his career.
Rex should certainly learn from his mistakes over four years of coaching and perhaps not put quite as much pressure on his team with brash guarantees. But at his core, he needs be himself.
Rex should take note of how Giants coach Tom Coughlin handled a "win-or-else" season in 2007.
Known as one of the strictest coaches in the NFL who ran his teams like a military academy, Coughlin made a point to enjoy what could have been his last season as an NFL head coach. He joked around more and took more of an interest in players' lives without losing his core values:
Coughlin and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl that season.
Rex does not necessarily need to be more carefree, but he does need to make adjustments to his coaching style without losing sight of who he is.
After all, if Ryan reverted to conducting himself like a "normal" coach, his players would look right through the disingenuous nature of his actions and see Rex as a coach trying to save his job, not put his players in a position to succeed and win games.
So far, Rex has no intentions of being anyone but himself:
No one knows exactly how the 2013 season will unfold for the Jets, especially given their youth and uncertainty at quarterback.
While it may be fair to count the Jets out of the playoffs for now, dismissing Rex Ryan's future in New York with two years left on his contract is simply unfair for a man who has accomplished a lot in four seasons.
Of course, there is a chance that Ryan will lose his job after the 2013 season. After all, there are mosquitoes with longer life expectancies than those of coaches in New York sports. As much as he has accomplished in his time as a Jet, he needs to improve as a coach.
In the end, Ryan has the tools and wherewithal to turn the Jets around and stay in New York—and as he has proven time and time again, betting against Rex is usually a losing bet.