If talking won football games, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would have nothing on Rex Ryan. During his tenures with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, Ryan certainly talked the talk. There were promises of playoff trips and proclamations about reaching the Super Bowl.
When it came to walking the walk, however, it was another story—especially in recent years. After a second season in which the longest active playoff drought in the NFL continued, the Bills had seen enough.
And after the end of what can only be called a disappointing stint in Western New York, it's past time to consider that maybe Ryan isn't as good at this coaching thing as he says he is.
I spoke with Rex earlier today and we mutually agreed that the time to part ways is now. These decisions are never easy. I want to take this opportunity to thank Rex for all his efforts and wish him all the best moving forward.
Kim and I and our entire Bills organization share in the same disappointment and frustration as our fans, but we remain committed to our goal of bringing a championship to Western New York.
The Bills fell to 7-8 with the loss, eliminated from playoff contention for the 17th consecutive season—this time by a Dolphins team headed to the postseason tournament under first-year head coach Adam Gase. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn will coach the Bills in Week 17, while defensive coordinator Rob Ryan joined his brother on the unemployment line.
Per the News' Vic Carucci, it wasn't just Pegula who thought a change was needed and that Rex Ryan had worn out his welcome:
Ryan's time in Buffalo may have ended with a thud, but as things often do with him, it began with a blustery storm of statements about how great things were going to be. As Mike Rodak of ESPN.com pointed out, Ryan's first presser as head coach began with him tapping the microphone and proclaiming, "Is this thing on? Because it's getting ready to be on."
"I'm not going to let our fans down," Ryan said. "I am not going to do that. I know it's been 15 years since the Bills made the playoffs. Well, get ready, man. We're going. We are going."
They didn't go in 2015. But despite an 8-8 season in which the Buffalo defense (Ryan's supposed specialty) regressed badly, the Ryan boys were still feeling their oats when they spoke with Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB in May, with Rex saying:
Well, we never lost a fight in our life. Ever. And we ain't losing this one. And that's a true statement. Not just because we are badasses—because we are, individually—but collectively, it's a lot different. To this day, no man is going to whip me. Why? Because I've got my brother with me. And I've got my brother, Dennis Thurman, with me. Ed Reed is here for a reason. These players are going to be like that, too. We want to fight like brothers. I don't know if we have 100 percent buy-in from even the entire building. I don't know yet. But the people directly with me, my coaching staff and the players, that's where it starts. I don't know all the business people yet; they should be "all in," but I don't know. There's times when the doubt part, that can be driven through the media. But I'm going to surround myself with the very best, and I'm going to win.
The big talk continued in September, when Ryan defiantly spoke to the team, via Rodak.
So did the profanity:
Everything's questioned. I forgot how to f---ing coach. "The players don't respond to Rex, he don't know what the f--- he's doing anymore."
I'm going to tell you we're the f---ing best because I believe it. Let me f---ing say it. And if it doesn't work, I'll be the first m-----f----- that goes.
Of course, the 2016 season also began in September, at which point the profanity really started flying. For a short time during a four-game winning streak that included a win over the Patriots, it appeared the Bills might have a real shot at a playoff spot. But those four wins were followed by three losses, and just like that, the 4-5 Bills were what they've been for so long now: an afterthought.
By any objective measure, the results haven't been there. Over 31 games as the Bills' head coach, Ryan had two wins over teams that went on to a playoff appearance that season. Buffalo was two games over .500 for all of one week during that span—at the end of that four-game winning streak earlier this year.
|Rex Ryan Career Coaching Stats|
|Career record: 61-66|
The real kick in the teeth came on the defensive side of the ball. The surname Ryan is supposed to be synonymous with stout defense. When he took the job, Rex pledged the talent-laden unit he inherited from Jim Schwartz would lead the NFL.
As Rodak reported, they haven't come close:
But in his 31 games as Bills coach, that group has ranked 24th in DVOA, 23rd in yards allowed per game, 15th in points allowed, 21st in yards allowed per play, 30th in yards allowed per rush, 15th in net yards per pass attempt, 29th in sacks per pass attempt, 20th in third-down conversion rate and 24th in red zone conversion rate. Ryan also has overseen a defense that allowed the franchise's most passing yards in a game (466 by Brady in September 2015) and most rushing yards in a game (236 by Le'Veon Bell in December 2016).
In fact, per Jeff Darlington of ESPN.com (via Rodak), Ryan lost the locker room on that side of the ball. "There were too many cooks in the kitchen. Guys were pissed," one player said. "He lost the defense."
That assumes he ever had it. Ryan is considered a "player's coach" because of his impassioned defenses of his players and loose team rules. But if the goal is to bind the team, it didn't work. Closely knit teams don't roll over and surrender a big lead by allowing 29 unanswered points to the Oakland Raiders.
The Bills did Dec. 4.
Ryan certainly didn't inspire discipline among his players in Buffalo, either. The Bills are second in the NFL in penalties since he took over. Because nothing says success like a team that constantly shoots itself in the foot.
The thing is, if you've been paying attention to anything except Ryan's own mouth, none of this is all that surprising. Ryan's teams may be fiery, but they're also sloppy and not all that successful.
In Ryan's first two years in New York, the Jets made it to consecutive AFC title games. It wasn't supposed to be a matter of if Ryan would get the Jets to the Super Bowl. It was how many.
Since then, Ryan has as many playoff trips as he has 10-win seasons. None. Zero. Zilch. Six years in the AFC East wilderness, and all the while he talked of Super Bowls and beating the Pats.
The first never happened. The second rarely did. But Ryan always pledged the next year would be different.
The Bills apparently felt otherwise.
If talking was all that went into coaching, Ryan would be in the Hall of Fame. And he does have a track record of crafting formidable defenses, even if that reputation took a bit of a beating in Buffalo.
But there's more to being a head coach than blitz strategies and press conferences. There's instilling respect and discipline in a locker room and delegating authority and responsibility to assistants who excel in your areas of weakness.
By every indication, Ryan is awful at those things. There's no proof he's even aware of respect and discipline as concepts, and to delegate, he'd have to admit he has a weakness.
That's all but surely not going to change. Ryan will go back to working in TV and wait for another team to be seduced by his name and early resume. Make no mistake—there will be another team that'll somehow convince itself this time will be different.
And then that team will figure out the same thing the Bills have.
That for all his talk, Ryan just isn't a good head coach.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter: @IDPSharks.