We’re about to find out what kind of coach, what kind of leader and thinker Rex Ryan really is. The answers will dictate whether his New York Jets are Super Bowl contenders or pretenders.
The team’s success hinges on Ryan’s ability to execute a reverse. Not the on-field kind, but the look-in-the-mirror variety, the kind of honest self-evaluation that screams for change.
For all of his preaching about self confidence and yes-we-can, at this critical juncture the Jets, losers of two straight games in which the offense failed to cross the goal line, seem to be a portrait of Ryan’s bluster more than his belief.
It was the Jets whose strength and conditioning coach tripped an opponent, a disgusting display of unsportsmanlike conduct. That’s some indictment in a league that includes Al Davis’s Raiders, who’ve never done anything to dispel the notion that their owner would condone just about anything as long as the outcome is a victory.
Jets management at long last did its part in the much-needed makeover, suspending Sal Alosi for the remainder of the season, playoffs included, for tripping Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll as the rookie ran along the sideline while covering a punt during New York’s 10-6 loss at New Meadowlands Stadium.
Thankfully, the front office didn’t follow the lead of so many professional sports franchises that put the onus of punishment on the commissioner. No owner, general manager or coach wants to be the bad guy, not when resentment, or worse, rebellion, can result.
“There’s no place for it in football,” said Ryan, the head coach and class clown. He wears wigs. He spews four-letter words. He talks tough. Remember his introductory press conference -- the one where Ryan boasted about you take out one of our guys we take two of yours. Funny at the time. Nothing is comical, however, when the offense can’t score, when the so-called Sanchise quarterback looks more confused than ever.
The Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby blamed Ryan for creating a culture that encourages bad behavior like the trip.
“The head coach, he opened a can of worms over there, and now he has to fix it,” he told reporters.
It might be too late.
Ryan likes to crack jokes, not whips. He pokes. He prods. Maybe he doesn’t know any other way. We’ll see.
He even tried to goad Mr. Monotone, New England’s Bill Belichick, whose Patriots have adopted the flat-line demeanor of their coach. Final score: Patriots 45, Jets 3.
Reflection of Coach
Ryan, to no one’s surprise, made a joke of getting lambasted on national television. He led his players outside, into the cold, for a mock funeral. Buried the game ball. His players needed a game plan, not camera-pleasing stunts and theatrics.
The Jets have the requisite talent to compete for a Super Bowl championship. The question is do they possess the temperament.
The team has become a reflection of its yakety yak coach. Players talk a big game. They just haven’t played one in a while.
Casual observers may see football as a sport where big galoots knock each other around indiscriminately. It’s about big bodies, yes, but it’s also about minds. Football, more than most people realize, is a thinking man’s game. It requires more than emotion, but even-temperedness, execution and evaluation.
Ryan ought to spend some time with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whom critics labeled as too rigid. Lighten up, they said.
Coughlin did lighten up. A smidgen. The Giants won the Super Bowl.
It’s a delicate balance.
NBC analyst and former wide receiver Cris Collinsworth said Ryan’s coaching style is “the NFL turned on its head.” In other words, Ryan has been trying to reinvent what it means to be the boss. Now he has to reinvent himself. And fast.
The schedule has the Jets heading to Pittsburgh, where the 10-3 Steelers await.
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, like Ryan, understands the importance of conveying the confidence he has in the players. Coach K, however, delivers the message without bombast.
The measure of any coach is to coax the best out of his or her players. The past two weeks the Jets production hasn’t been commensurate with their talent.
The fix falls on Ryan, whose fan base and bosses are anxious to see if the class clown can pass the season’s most important test.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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