Even the princely Darrelle Revis lost his cool at times this season.
I’ve never hidden my feelings about New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan. I think he’s too chatty. Much of his blustering is more agitating than entertaining. His preening in front of the press lacks the authentic eccentricity of his father, the great Buddy Ryan. It’s almost as if uses every opportunity to prove to everyone that he’s just as fiery as his father was during his prime.
That’s why I never thought I’d find myself in a position to feel sorry for Coach Ryan. But this week, I do.
As you know, the Jets began an epic team meltdown in mid-October when wide receiver Santonio Holmes, eschewing any tact or home training, publicly called out his teammates for something that only remotely seems relevant now. Fast forward to the Jets season ending with no appearance in the playoffs and suddenly you have Bart Scott flipping the bird to a reporter, and the usually princely Darrelle Revis refusing to talk to reporters (earlier this season he hung up on a badgering Mike Francesca, another sign of frustration), and an aging but still vocal LaDainian Tomlinson putting Holmes on public notice that his behavior wasn’t acceptable.
That was all in just one day. One day that ended with Ryan tearfully addressing his fractured team and urging them to come together. And by come together I’m sure he meant act professionally because with their season over the team won’t be physically coming together again until spring training begins. (Though if you listen to General Manager Mike Tannenbaum speak, you’d think they were headed full steam ahead into the playoffs this weekend).
At any rate, the team has ignored their crestfallen coach’s plea and continue to jaw and reveal their locker room’s deep divisions. This was certainly not how it was supposed to go for the Jets. This was, again, supposed to be their year. With two AFC championship appearances (but no wins) under their belts this year was supposed to yield that elusive Super Bowl appearance. And many of us in the public thought this year would, in fact, be a strong year for the Jets. If not a win or visit to the Super Bowl at least another AFC championship appearance which, by the way, is nothing to scoff at.
But after the Jets made a slew of poor decisions during the rushed free agency period that began as the lockout ended, the expectation that the Jets would blow into the playoffs and manage to beat the best teams despite a lesser roster were muted for most—but not Ryan. Despite the Jets having given away their jittery quarterback’s favorite receiver Braylon Edwards, neglecting to solidify a fresh running back to take the pressure off said jittery QB, and knowing the receiving core, offensive line and defensive line would be without the leadership and steadiness of Jericho Cotchery, Damien Woody, and Shaun Ellis, Ryan persisted in trying to convince us the Jets were something that they were not.
Earlier this season Michael Lombardi wrote that he felt Ryan’s bragging about the Jets was causing them more harm than good, calling Ryan’s overstatements “counterproductive.” Lombardi said:
His players know what he is saying is not true, because they watch the same tape he does. Do you really think star cornerDarrelle Revis thinks the Jets offense is Super Bowl-worthy? Revis is too smart for that. The fans in New York are too smart, too savvy to believe every word, as they can tell the difference between a good and a great team. And Ryan gives the opponents free bulletin-board material. This is where his bold predictions become counterproductive.
At the time, Lombardi’s take seemed perfectly logical–the team had to know that they weren’t as good as Ryan’s statements. But now I wonder if that’s not true. I wonder if rather than perceiving Ryan’s bold statements as part of the show, they instead bought into his insistence that they were a part of something great and not the so-so team they looked to be.
And I believe that may be a large part of why the team turned on each other. Each of them is looking for someone to blame for the fact that they underperformed. But the reality is that the Jets did not underperform. The Jets’ roster is consistent with that of the 8-8 team they were this year. A more realistic team wouldn’t have been surprised by its lack of playoff berth but rather could have taken pride in playing hard until the end despite some real challenges on the talent front.
My sympathy for Ryan comes not from agreeing with his tactics—I assure you I do not. But it comes from understanding that this is a man who has motivated his team using a certain method. And suddenly that method has blown up in his face in very public fashion. That’s a painful experience for someone who obviously cares so much. Even still, I’m not letting Ryan off the hook. He, of all people, knew the limitations of the individuals on his team and still he insisted upon ramping up expectations. So much so that the two AFC championship appearances in 2 years with second year coach and QB seemed like a failure on the surface. He has no one to blame but himself for that one.
When reporters asked Ryan if he was planning to change his style he said he wasn’t and that he’s a “confident” person. But next year I fully hope to see a further dialing down. This season it became clear that the New York Jets are not annoying trash talkers — Rex Ryan is an annoying trash talker. There was a point as the game between the Jets and New York Giants approached where you realized that the trash talk between the teams involved a bunch of mouthy giants and one Jet in the form of the coach. When responding to what the Giants players said about him, Revis’ defenses of himself were more obligatory than passionate. He just didn’t seem to care all that much about talking up a storm. In this instance, the player was much more mature than the coach. And that’s not a good thing.
People have already compared Rex Ryan to Tom Coughlin who relaxed his preachy ways in 2008 leading a team that had been full of drama the previous year to a Super Bowl win. And I think this is a valid comparison because at the root of both Coughlin’s initial issues with the Giants and Ryan’s issue with this year’s Jets is a motivating style that has outlived its usefulness. The question is whether Ryan is too confident to change.