Shortly after being named coach of the New York Jets,
Ryan strolled down the hallway leading to the team’s locker room and decided it
needed some sprucing up.
So, he hung up some history.
From No. 1 to No. 99, Ryan had the names of every player
who has ever worn a Jets jersey placed on the wall along with their respective
number. Joe Namath, Joe Klecko, Don Maynard and Curtis Martin are all there.
“It was just a pride thing,” Ryan said. “It’s a thing
like, ‘Hey this is your football team. This will always be your football team.
Once you’re a Jet, you’re always a Jet. That should be a prideful thing.'”
Ryan grew up a Jets fan, rooting for the team during its
only Super Bowl appearance in 1969 while his father, Buddy, was a defensive
assistant. Now, here he is, coaching the squad he refers to as “Dad’s team,” and
trying to establish an identity for a franchise that has been searching for one
since Broadway Joe made good on his bold guarantee.
“I heard this a bunch when I took this job: ‘Same old
Jets,'” Ryan said. “It just gave you a little burr in the saddle. Our belief is
going to be that we’re going to win and we expect to win.”
Talk about an attitude adjustment. Linebacker Bart Scott
called it being “swaggerlicious.”
Not since Bill Parcells took over in 1997 has there been
so much hope – and hype – surrounding the arrival of a Jets coach.
The bland Al Groh certainly didn’t excite anyone when he
replaced Parcells in 2000, after Bill Belichick abruptly quit, of course. Herm
Edwards was likable and occasionally created a headline – “You play to win the
game!” – but he was undone by flaws in his coaching abilities. Eric Mangini was
inexperienced, but was regarded as one of the league’s top young defensive minds
after learning under Belichick in New England. Ultimately, his stubborn approach
and stoic sideline persona cost him his job after three seasons.
Owner Woody Johnson wanted a fiery personality, and he
certainly got one in Ryan, a defensive mastermind with the gift of gab. So far,
Ryan’s big talk has matched the aggressive personality of his team on the field.
Bold. Brash. Cocky. Arrogant. Confident.
They’re all words used by players, coaches, fans and the
media to describe Ryan, who has all of two NFL games – both victories with a
rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez at the helm – under his big belt.
“He’s tells you like it is,” said long snapper James
Dearth, a member of the Jets since 2001. “When there’s a guy who tells it like
it is, when he says that we’re winners, he means it. Whatever comes out of his
mouth, you know he’s not blowing smoke at you. He is what he is and he tells you
the truth. There’s no hiding it.”
Not that Ryan has ever wanted to hide. He has been
unafraid to speak his mind, whether it was saying the team would someday meet
President Barack Obama – implying a Super Bowl victory – or taking on Miami
Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, or declaring he didn’t come to New York to
“kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.”
That has all rubbed some the wrong way, but to others,
the bravado has made the Jets interesting. After all, maybe it’s better for a
team to be disliked than not thought of at all.
“This is who I am every day,” Ryan said.
How about his unscripted voicemail message sent to
season ticket holders last week, urging them to be loud and make things
“miserable” for New England on Sunday? The fans answered the call, and Ryan gave
them a collective game ball for their part in helping New York beat New England
at home for the first time since 2000 – a 16-9 victory.
Yep, that’s all part of his Rex appeal. The players
believe in him, and so do the fans.
“Now it’s like I can speak,” nose tackle Kris Jenkins
said. “It’s cool. I feel like myself, which is fun.”
Gone are the days of Mangini’s dry, less-is-more
approach. Ryan is the anti-Mangini, a quote machine with a self-deprecating
sense of humor. He comes across as a regular guy, someone you can picture
kicking back and talking sports with. No wonder Scott, Jim Leonhard and Marques
Douglas jumped at the opportunity to follow Ryan from Baltimore to New York.
“When I met him the first time, I thought, ‘What a
genuine man,'” Dearth said. “What you see is what you get. To me, it seems he’s
the same man here as he is anywhere else. He’s not changing for anybody. That’s
just awesome to have that and be around that.”
Some players who were previously withdrawn have become
downright chatty, such as left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson predicting he’d make
the Pro Bowl. The team has even embraced Twitter, encouraging players to express
themselves. Safety Kerry Rhodes, who has never been shy, proclaimed that the
Jets wanted to try to “embarrass” New England and got into a Twitter showdown
with former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.
“Kerry made a statement and we stood behind him,”
defensive end Shaun Ellis said. “We had his back.”
That has been the running theme since Ryan took over.
Talk all you want, but make sure you back it up.
“Sometimes we talk a little bit,” Ryan said, “but only
because we have confidence in our football team.”
For now, the Jets have reason. They’re 2-0, have the
league’s top-ranked defense, haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown and face 0-2
Tennessee at home Sunday.
Last year, the Jets beat the Patriots and Titans in
consecutive games on the road to improve to 8-3 and prompt Super Bowl talk.
Then, the Jets and an injured Brett Favre collapsed, losing four of their last
five games and missing the playoffs.
“This is a new beginning,” Scott said. “I don’t pay
attention to the past. The past is the past. It’s a new day. It’s a new team.
It’s not the same old Jets people are used to.”
And, the biggest reason for that is the new guy in
“What we’re trying to have here, to ‘play like a Jet,'”
Ryan said, “well, it’s going to mean something.”