Rex Ryan is misunderstood.
The New York Jets’ head coach has taken the brunt of the blame for his team’s buffoonery over the past three years. The Sanchez crisis? The locker-room struggles between Santonio Holmes and everyone else? The media braggadocio? These problems, and plenty of others, have been chalked up to the culture instilled by Rex since he took over in 2009, which is cocky and blustering and generally outlandish.
Am I saying Rex has nothing to do with all this? No. Rex will put his foot in his mouth, and Rex does, to some extent, inspire his players to sometimes operate outside the boundaries of a) good taste and b) prudence. But Rex isn’t the root cause of this, and he isn’t to blame for most of those problems that have plagued the team in the past few years. That comes from the top down.
Prior to 2008, the Jets were a sad-sack franchise, overshadowed by their more successful cross-town cousins and the specter of Joe Namath hanging three-plus decades in the background. They occasionally won, but when they did — when they had a season worth watching — it was with players like Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington, guys who either exemplified blue-collar football or possessed tremendous intangibles and no complementary tools. Aside from Curtis Martin, the team lacked any true stars through the decade prior to 2008, and the quarterbacks who shuffled in and out of the lineup sound to the casual football fan like a random tour through the phone book: Neil O’Donnell, Glenn Foley, Ray Lucas, Rick Mirer, Quincy Carter, Jay Fiedler, Testaverde, Pennington, Brooks Bollinger, Kellen Clemens.
The mood changed in 2008, when management sprung for Brett Favre, who at the time ached to return from his brief “retirement.” This was pre-Rex, mind you; in the last year of Eric Mangini’s tenure with New York, Woody Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum — owner and GM, respectively — forced on him an unpredictable, unreliable, and old starting quarterback mainly for his noteworthiness. Deciding on this as a strategy they wanted to keep pursuing, Woody and Mike went out, post-Mangini, and got a coach to fit.
After the debacle of the 2011 Jets season, in which the Jets failed to make the playoffs despite being hailed as pre-season Super Bowl contenders, Rex’s impeccable first two years seemed to be almost immediately forgotten. All of a sudden, he became the loudmouth who couldn’t coach despite having reached two AFC championships in his first two years. What people don’t acknowledge is how well he responded to this duress, shedding terrible offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who predated his arrival in New York, and picking up Tony Sparano, whose run-heavy attack blends well with Rex’s tastes.
Then what happened? Tannenbaum and Johnson brought in Tim Tebow. They certainly didn’t do it without any input from Rex, but it was once again a personnel decision, in the mold of the Plaxico Burress signing the year before, that begged for headlines more than anything Rex ever did.
And now it’s Woody Johnson who wants the Jets to do Hard Knocks, HBO’s all-access training camp series that initially made the team a media sensation, again, and Rex doesn’t want to. It’s more of the same: Jets brass pushing the team, and the coaching staff, to be glitzy and loud. What’s refreshing is to see Rex finally pushing back, and this resistance bodes well for the future.