One can trace first-year Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s interest in coaching all the way back to 1978, when Ryan was only 15 years old. Ryan’s father, NFL coaching legend Buddy Ryan, was entering his first year as defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, and young Rex and his twin brother Rob (current Browns defensive coordinator) were fortunate enough to score jobs as water and towel boys.
Unbeknown to most observers, Rex was watching with a careful eye, all the while planting the seeds necessary to eventually grow into the role of NFL head coach.
Buddy was one of the few that recognized his son’s keen eye for the game.
"When the other ball boys were all playing around, Rex and Rob were paying attention," Buddy said, "They were always interested in watching coaches."
Apparently, the appropriate pieces fell into place, because after spending 10 years as a coach for the Ravens’ thoroughly terrifying defense and serving as coordinator since 2005, Ryan was hired by the Jets.
With high hopes that Ryan can take the remaining elements of ex-coach Eric Mangini’s 3-4 defense and turn them into something more formidable, the Jets are asking a lot of coach Rex. But Ryan looks up to the task, as his aggressive 3-4 defense poses a multitude of problems for offenses around the league.
Father Buddy’s influence is also apparent in Ryan’s game plans, which employed Buddy’s trademark 46 defense around 20 percent of the time last season with the Ravens. Like his father, Rex also holds a similar view on pressuring an opposing team’s entire offensive personnel, not just the quarterback.
Ryan is also perceived as having a calmer demeanor than his father, who once famously punched out his team’s offensive coordinator on the sideline while serving as defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers.
Coach Ryan certainly seems to have all of the resources needed to achieve even more success than his dad, but it never hurts to have a little help.
Here are some of the key members of Coach Ryan’s staff:
Mike Pettine—Defensive Coordinator
One of Ryan’s first moves as a head coach was to secure the services of one of his most trusted colleagues during his tenure with the Ravens, Mike Pettine.
Pettine, who was on Baltimore’s staff as a defensive assistant for seven years and acted as outside linebackers coach for four, is one of Ryan’s closest coaching confidants, and continuing the partnership made perfect sense for both.
Although Ryan and Pettine’s paths have converged at this particular point in their lives, Pettine took a significantly different route. While Pettine, like Ryan, worked under his father as he began his climb up the coaching ladder, it was for Central Bucks West High School in Pennsylvania, not an NFL squad.
After five years at Central Bucks West, Pettine worked as a defensive graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh for two years before becoming a high school head coach. Seven years later, Pettine got his big break when the Ravens hired him as a video assistant, and the rest is history.
The Jets front office hopes that the team can reap the same benefits from the Pettine/Ryan combination that the Ravens did for so many seasons.
Brian Schottenheimer—Offensive Coordinator
Rex Ryan isn’t the only member of the Jets staff that is product of a fine NFL coaching legacy. Schottenheimer, son of renowned former head coach Marty Schottenheimer, is considered to be one of the league’s best up-and-coming offensive minds and should garner serious attention as a head coaching candidate in the near future.
In fact, Schottenheimer, the Jets’ offensive coordinator for the past three seasons, was one of the main candidates for the head coaching position after the departure of Eric Mangini. So, when Ryan was awarded the job, Schottenheimer’s future with the team looked uncertain.
However, Ryan elected to retain Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator, and the team will look to revitalize an offense that was hamstrung at times last season due to the last-second arrival of Brett Favre.
Before entering the coaching ranks, Schottenheimer was Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel’s back-up quarterback at the University of Florida, winning a National Championship in 1996.
Immediately after graduating in 1997, Schottenheimer became an assistant with the St. Louis Rams and would go on to hold various assistant positions with Kansas City Chiefs, Syracuse Orange, USC Trojans, and Washington Redskins.
In 2001, the Redskins, coached by Brian’s father, promoted him to quarterbacks coach. When Marty left the Redskins to coach the San Diego Chargers, Brian followed, serving in that capacity for three seasons before departing for the Jets.
Bill Callahan—Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line
Although Callahan has experience as an NFL head coach, having been at the helm of the Oakland Raiders during a 16-18 record over two seasons (2002-03) and a spot in Super Bowl XXXVII, he serves as an assistant and offensive line specialist for the Jets.
His long career has come full-circle, as one of Callahan’s first jobs was as the offensive line coach at Northern Arizona. Callahan would eventually hold that same position with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, before jumping to the Raiders to serve as offensive coordinator in 1998.
After being fired from his head coaching gig with the Raiders following a disappointing 4-12 season, Callahan took the demanding head coaching job at the University of Nebraska. In 2004, Callahan’s first season, the coach led the Cornhuskers to a 5-6 record, the school’s first losing season since 1961.
Callahan improved the team and enjoyed two relatively successful seasons in 2005 and 2006, but a dismal 2007 campaign saw the coach fired after going 5-7.
While Callahan has certainly endured his ups and downs, he currently finds himself in the enviable position of having all five offensive line starters returning. Should the line perform up to task this season, Callahan could also find his name surfacing as part of the NFL head coaching rumor mill.