Back when the New York Jets were a mess, after the team lost four of its final five games to miss the 2008 playoffs with Brett Favre at the helm, the Jets' future looked bleak. With an aging quarterback in Favre and a coach in Eric Mangini that was not in tune with his players, the Jets needed a fresh start.
Their first task was finding a new head coach. “Mangenius” surely didn’t stand a chance after that heartbreaking 2008 late-season collapse.
I have to admit, I was one of those fans who wanted Mike Shanahan at any expense. When New York decided to hire a defensive coordinator from the Baltimore Ravens with no prior head coaching experience, I was a bit disappointed.
Little did I and all of my fellow Jets fans know what Rex Ryan was all about. From day one he injected his confidence and winning attitude into the Jets fanbase. Ryan immediately opened his big mouth in a city that loves and embraces trash talk.
“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. I came here to win. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.” On the day he was introduced as Jets head coach he began his talking, and he hasn’t lost any of that same passion that he had when he first took over.
While just about the entire country hates Rex Ryan, the Jets and all of the talking they do, Ryan’s big mouth strategy certainly works.
I’ll take you back to New York pre-Rex Ryan. The Giants owned the town, they were on the back page of the newspaper every week, they were on all of the sports talk shows, they sold the most jerseys and they were the talk of the town after their Super Bowl XLII victory over the heavily favored Patriots.
The Jets were a tenant in the Giants' building, a second-class team in New York and the “Same Old Jets” after decades of losing. The Jets weren’t a cool team. It certainly wasn’t a desired destination for big name free agents, and prime time games for the Jets were hard to come by.
Now I take you to the year 2009. Rex Ryan is hired, he immediately has something to say about Belichick and the Patriots and suddenly people are talking about the Jets. Ryan is a genius. To him, winning is very important. But being talked about is equally important. New York has embraced Rex, especially because of who preceded Ryan as head coach of the Jets. In 2009 he became a fresh breath of air to a team that was always surrounded by negativity.
Ryan is the exact opposite of Mangini. Ryan is loud, fiery, at times too honest and provides great material for the media. Mangini is a Belichick disciple, reserved and doesn’t really say what’s on his mind. In a city like New York, fans needed a loudmouth like Rex who would represent the arrogance and sense of superiority of the New York population.
Where Ryan’s strategy works extremely well is when his players have to deal with the pressure of the New York media. The big mouth coach does most of the talking before and after games. What this does is take the pressure off his players. If the Jets lose, the media attacks Ryan, not the Jets players. He is the leader of the team and the scapegoat whenever his team underperforms. Because of this, players love playing for him, and it allows Mark Sanchez and Jets players to focus more on the game.
Ryan’s strategy also works on game day in the locker room. We all had the chance to see Rex fire up his team in the locker room on HBO’s Hard Knocks, and we all know how Rex’s words can inspire his team. Players love playing for Rex so much that they would run through a wall from him. He knows how to get the best out of his players. His trash talking and loudmouth strategy help young players relate to him, unlike the older coaches in the league like Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin.
Playing for Rex, players believe they can win. They buy into Rex’s system and love backing up all of his trash talk.
Rex Ryan has also has a heavy influence on the free agents who decide to sign with Gang Green. LaDainian Tomlinson emphatically stated that a big reason why he decided to sign with the Jets was because he wanted to play for Rex. Defensive players also love playing for Rex. Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Jason Taylor and many others joined New York because of the head coach.
In a Sports Illustrated poll, Rex Ryan was named the coach that most players want to play for. He won by an overwhelming margin. He finished with 21 percent of the vote, Mike Tomlin finished second with 12 percent, Sean Payton had nine percent, Jeff Fisher eight percent and Belichick only won seven percent of the vote.
Taking the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship Games, getting to that game in 2009 with a rookie coach and rookie quarterback, and winning four playoff games on the road, he must be doing something right. The Jets have never been more popular than they are now. This season they have five prime time games on their schedule after being on Hard Knocks last summer.
Rex Ryan has certainly changed the culture of the Jets. They are no longer the “Same Old Jets.” They are a fiery, passionate, hard-nosed team that takes on the attitude of the coach. Whether or not his team loses, Rex’s trash talking makes games very exciting. He hates Tom Brady, he hates the Patriots and he hates everyone not named the Jets—and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Of course, there are flaws to his style of coaching. His high praise of Darrelle Revis fueled the cornerback’s holdout last summer, and his trash talking often gets under the skin of opposing teams, which puts a target on the Jets back. He sometimes gives opposing teams an added incentive to beat Gang Green, but that’s what creates the rivalries that Jets fans love to watch.
Either you love him or you hate him, but I know deep down fans of other teams wish Rex coached their team.