Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick: Has the Torch Passed for NFL's Top Coach?

J. David LeeContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 22:  Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Rex Ryan of the New York on November 22, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 31-14. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Hoodie, The Genius.

Bill Belichick has been considered in modern times to be the NFL's best coach. The Patriots have gone through a myriad of roster changes during Belichick's tenure, but one thing remains constant. The Patriots win.

He's come up with defensive game plans to stall Peyton Manning. His ability to find and use athletes that other teams thought were old and washed up or young and untalented is well known.

Some even whispered that Bill Belichick's name could be mentioned with the greats in the history of the league. When his career is over, he will be spoken of in the same breath as Lombardi, Landry, Shula and Noll. The Hall of Fame, for Belichick, is a given.

But is he still the best in the NFL? Looking around the league, there are lots of impressive young coaches. None match the consistency that Bill Belichick has had in New England.

Sunday night's loss to the New York Jets may have signaled a passing of the torch, however. Love him or hate him, how can anyone deny the genius of Rex Ryan?

We first got to know him as the fat, loud-mouthed defensive coordinator in Baltimore. He talked a lot, but boy, did those Ravens play defense. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company could shut you down. Fast and athletic, they would also hit you like a ton of bricks.

Then Ryan was hired as the head coach of the New York Jets and immediately started talking about a Super Bowl. While the Jets had surely underachieved for Eric Mangini, no one saw them as Super Bowl contenders.

No one, that is, but the Jets and Ryan. Really, those were the people that mattered. Rex Ryan motivated and coached and cajoled his players to the AFC Championship Game in his first year. Even though they lost that game, the Jets were now on everyone's radar.

This year, Ryan has shown why he is a superior coach, even though he doesn't fit the typical mold. He was not afraid to be himself when HBO's Hard Knocks followed him around. He wasn't afraid of telling the media when he felt his team was being disrespected.

The real genius, though, is the game he's played with the media in the last few weeks. Most see Ryan making comments about other teams' players and coaches as the work of an egomaniac. What he's doing, though, is taking pressure off his players and carrying it himself. He's also whipping other teams into a frenzy that allows them to make mistakes.

Most of all, his antics are hiding the fact that his game plans, defensively, are brilliant. Other NFL coaches try to blitz Manning and Brady. Ryan saw that elite quarterbacks thrive under such pressure and easily find the hot read left open by the blitz.

Ryan decided to rush four and play better coverage. The Jets minimized the windows available to Manning and Brady. It's paid off with a chance to play for the AFC Championship.

Is he the best in the game? We still don't know, but he's certainly making his case for it.