Rex Ryan finally sees team he expects
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan never is afraid to say anything. In the last week, he pulled off a doozy, basically insulting Chargers coach Norv Turner because San Diego hasn't won any championships.
During a conference call with San Diego reporters on Wednesday, Ryan mentioned that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be an NFL head coach. Asked if he had reflected on what would have happened had he been hired in 2007 by San Diego for his first NFL head coaching job — Turner got the gig — he replied: "I think I would have had a couple of rings. I'm telling you, those teams were loaded. There's no question about it."
Ryan insisted it was an unintentional slight, and it probably was. But it made headlines and led sportscasts, and Ryan called Turner to explain and apologize.
On Sunday, Ryan had no reason to apologize as his Jets made an impressive turnaround to beat the Chargers 27-21. It was San Diego that self-destructed, particularly in the second half, leaving Turner to bemoan his team's sloppiness.
Ryan, meanwhile, could joke about the incident, which is exactly what everyone expects from Rex. He might be irreverent at times and he certainly is remarkably confident in his coaching ability, his defensive schemes and his relationship with his players. He's also entertaining, insightful and, well, honest.
You can't say that about too many coaches in the NFL, or any other sport, for that matter.
"Before the game, I told him I thought I could get him inside," Ryan joked of his pregame meeting with Turner. "I was going to work the body. Obviously, my chin's not so great ... so I have to worry about that one punch of his."
The jokes, bravado and bluster serve a purpose for Ryan and his team. The Jets have a delicate mix and Ryan is trying to mold it into a champion. They have a third-year quarterback in Mark Sanchez who has struggled taking the next step to stardom, yet is 4-2 in the playoffs, all on the road.
They have some huge egos in Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Bart Scott — all of whom have come from different teams and still are trying to meld.
There have been some locker room issues despite the presence of LaDainian Tomlinson, Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold, classy players with leadership skills.
When New York spiraled into a three-game losing streak on the road in which it was outmuscled, outhustled and, yes, outcoached, questions arose about the Jets even being a contender.
Those questions won't be answered for a few weeks; the Jets have a bye, then play at Buffalo and host New England. But they are 4-0 at home and Ryan isn't about to lose faith in them.
Nor stop talking about them.
"We saw the team we envisioned at the start of the season," he said Sunday. "We were slow to get it going, but we saw it.
"We just feel like we're hitting our stride now. This is the football team we think we have. We had more hiccups along the way. Here we are.
"We know what's up next. We've got two of our divisional teams. As everybody says, they're ahead of us. Well, we'll see what happens."
Regardless of what happens, Ryan won't be backing off — verbally or in his coaching style. Changing his ways would be a disservice to himself and to his team; indeed, players see right through coaches who aren't true to themselves. It happened with the Jets and Ryan's predecessor, Eric Mangini.
"Rex is Rex and it's what we want him to be," Holmes said. "Be natural, be yourself."
Ryan will cause more uproars with things he says, all the while hoping the attention that is focused on him allows his players to relax and, well, be natural, be themselves. He might even insult a peer or two along the way.
But if his team finds ways to win as it did against San Diego, Rex will remain relevant, and so will the Jets.
AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr., contributed to this story.