For the fourth time in the decade, the New York Jets will welcome a new head coach. Like his three predecessors, Al Groh, Herman Edwards, and Eric Mangini, new head coach Rex Ryan comes to the Jets without any prior head coaching experience at any level of football. Like the other three, Ryan’s background is as a defensive coach.
Rex Ryan also shares much in common with his two highest assistants. Rex Ryan is the son of famous football coach and defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan. Buddy was the founder of the famed Chicago Bears “46” defense.
The younger Ryan came up through the college system, starting as a defensive end coach with Eastern Kentucky in 1988. He would join his father in Arizona in 1994, and after his father was fired in 1995, Rex would end up back in college at the University of Cincinnati. After two seasons with the Bearcats, he spent 1998 at the University of Oklahoma.
In 1999, Ryan got his call back to the NFL as the defensive line coach for Baltimore. The following season the Ravens would go on to win Super Bowl XXXV as the defense did not allow a point to the Giants. The Giants' seven points came on a kick return.
Ryan continued as the D-line coach with the Ravens until 2005, when he was promoted to defensive coordinator after Mike Nolan took the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers. Rex was voted the Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association in 2006.
Mike Pettine, the Jets' new defensive coordinator, and Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets' offensive coordinator, both have famous fathers. Mike is the son of legendary Central Bucks High School West (PA) coach Mike Pettine, Sr., who won 326 games and four Pennsylvania AAAA state championships.
The Pettine family may be best known for an ESPN special in 1999 called The Season. The younger Pettine was the head coach of North Penn High School, and he tried and failed to beat his very successful father to win the Pennsylvania state championship.
Pettine would leave the high school level and go straight to the NFL in 2001. Pettine was named an assistant on the Ravens' coaching staff. In 2005, he was promoted to be Baltimore’s outside linebackers coach. Ryan calls Pettine his right hand. Pettine’s specialty is using video to develop the defensive playbook.
Brian Schottenheimer is the son of Marty Schottenheimer. Marty was the head coach for the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, and the San Diego Chargers. Marty has 200 wins as a head coach in the NFL, but it is his playoff losses that come to mind when his name is mentioned.
Some Jets fans believe that in Brian’s case the apple did not fall far from the tree. His father was criticized for being too conservative on offense when the situation called for something more aggressive. This style of play is called Marty Ball. Brian has been criticized for being boring and predictable.
Last year was a difficult year for Brian. He had a quarterback change come in preseason, as the rivalry that Jet fans thought was coming between Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens was replaced by the entrance of Brett Favre. This changed the offense dramatically; the Jets had a gunslinger and not a game manager.
It seemed for most of the season Favre was attentive and disciplined. But in the final weeks of the season, Favre was gun slinging the ball, and bad interceptions followed.
It is unclear as to why Rex Ryan kept Brian Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator. Brian interviewed for the head coaching position with the Jets, but the team chose Ryan. The Jets had major changes in offensive personnel, especially their first-round draft choice, Mark Sanchez, who is now the face of the franchise.
The wild card on this coaching staff is Bill Callahan. Callahan is the Jets' assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Callahan was the head coach at Nebraska from 2004 to 2007.
Callahan is the only coach on the staff who has experience as a NFL head coach; he coached the Raiders from 2002 to 2004. In his first season, the Raiders were AFC Champions and lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.
The reason I say that Callahan is a wild card is because he has experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He was the Raiders' offensive coordinator from 1998 to 2001 under Jon Gruden. It would not surprise me that if the Jets offense were to struggle in 2009, Schottenheimer would take the fall and Callahan could be the Jets' offensive coordinator.
The most respected coach on the Jets' staff is special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff. He is probably the one coach on the Jets that fans never really criticize. That is saying a lot.
Mike is truly one of the best in the business. He has been with the Jets since 2001. In his eight seasons, the Jets lead the NFL with 11 kickoff returns for touchdowns. That total is three better than the next best team on the list, the New England Patriots with eight. Westhoff has had three very good kick returners—Chad Morton, Justin Miller, and now All-Pro Leon Washington—run back scores for the Jets.
I expect the Jets to be more aggressive on defense than they were under Eric Mangini. If Rex Ryan is anything like his father, fans should expect a high-pressure defense with multiple looks at attacking the pass. Ryan was able to steal two of his former Ravens in linebacker Bart Scott and strong safety Jim Leonhard. That should help this team get used to the transition.
The question for fans is, how will Ryan do without the luxury of having three probable Hall of Famers that were in Baltimore by the names of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs?
Can these sons equal their fathers’ accomplishments? Better yet, can Rex Ryan do what his father Buddy could not do—take his team to a Super Bowl as the head coach? That would make for quite a Hemingway novel.