Rex Ryan took the podium for his first press conference as New York Jets head coach, overflowing at the brim with the same brash confidence that has since become hated, applauded, despised, lauded, resented and respected.
"If you take a swipe at one of ours, we’ll take two swipes at one of yours," Ryan said. "We’re going to turn the heat up, we’re going to let the fur fly, and let’s see what happens."
At the time, it seemed only like a bunch of hot air being fanned around by a 46-year-old journeyman defensive coordinator.
Almost two years to date and the fur is still in full flight. Only now, the vagabond is looking a lot like a squire.
23 wins, two postseason berths, consecutive AFC title game appearances and a potential Super Bowl ring don’t hurt.
Ryan says what he thinks and thinks what he says, but the weekly clinics in oratorical psychology are as calculated and deftly delivered as they are transparent.
Media who cover the NFL greedily lap up his observations, but are even more grateful for the riches of quotes he passes out at every turn. Writing a lead for a story about Ryan should never be hard, always terse and primarily used to set the stage for whatever delicious nugget the head coach happened to bestow the day before.
Jets fans are appreciative. Not since Joe Namath has the franchise been the residence of a figure that has so beautifully mashed megaphone-like confidence off the field with a quiet dominance on it.
The love and respect between Ryan and his players were kindled that very first day and haven’t wavered. Not necessarily the approach that would light a fire under every team, Ryan has own unique way of nurturing the coach-to-player relationship, and the reviews are favorable.
"He’s kind of like a teammate to us instead of a boss," defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said recently. "Every team has a great cause they play for and this is one of the few teams that play for our head coach, not in spite of him."
Ryan’s players go to bat for him because he goes to bat for them. He welcomes becoming the focal point for criticism because it deflects the negativity away from his players. And with the possible exception of last week’s R-rated diatribe by Antonio Cromartie, the tactic has worked.
Away from the coach-speak, a good number of Ryan’s peers will tell you they respect him, not necessarily for his publicized rants, but for the genius that sometimes gets lost underneath. So says Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, whose team will go head to head with the Jets on Sunday for a trip to the Super Bowl.
"I love Rex. Rex has a lot of fun with you guys, but when you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach," Tomlin said at his press conference Tuesday. "He has the pulse of his football team. He does a great job of motivating them, is very sound schematically in all three phases and his glass is always half full. I appreciate that."
Love or hate Ryan, you would be foolish to think he is not good for the NFL, which I would bet values all coaches who share the same unobstructed and unfiltered pipeline between mind and mouth.
Think of Jim Mora’s "Playoffs?" and "Diddly Poo" speeches, mixed in with Dennis Green’s "They are who we thought they were." Those were moments just sitting on YouTube glory. Conjure up every classic line delivered by Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards, Jon Gruden and whomever else you like. You’ll fill pages upon pages.
Ryan is all these and more. OK, the whole foot fetish video folly we could have done without, but the incident only strengthened Ryan’s aura as a pseudo-celebrity, perhaps even more so than a whole season of "Hard Knocks."
He is controversy, contempt, humor and pride rolled up into a rotund package. Most of all, though, he is ratings, apparently.
Thanks in no small part to his and his team’s anti-New England campaign last week, the Jets’ 28-21 win over the Patriots was the most-watched divisional round game in history, drawing more than an estimated 43.5 million viewers.
With numbers like that, the league office might consider letting Ryan conduct his next press conference completely naked, with nothing more to cover his backside than a painted NFL emblem.
That’s the effect Ryan has on the game. His bravado, whether you consider it to be crude or refreshing, makes the NFL money.
Two years later, the fur is still flying. And we can’t wait to see what will happen next.
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