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Trevor Pryce: Rex Ryan might be too nice for his own good

Doug Farrar
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Happier days: Trevor Pryce (93) and Rex Ryan in January, 2011. (AP)

Former Denver Broncos,  Baltimore Ravens, and New York Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, who played under current Jets head coach Rex Ryan when Ryan was Baltimore's defensive coordinator from 2006 through 2008, and a little bit for the Jets in 2010, has an interesting theory about the current breakdowns in the Jets' overall plan -- at least, as it applies to Rex himself. Certainly, the current Jets team, standing at 6-8 after losing perhaps the worst football game of the year at any level last Monday night to the Tennessee Titans, are not getting the full benefit of Ryan's football acumen.

Pryce, who recently penned a guest column for the New York Times on the subject, believes that Ryan is too nice in the wrong ways -- and before he can succeed long-term as an NFL head coach, he'll have to change his modus operandi.

If every team had the exact same talent level on its roster, and commanding an N.F.L. sideline involved nothing more than X’s and O’s, Ryan would be one of the more revered coaches in sports. He is a brilliant strategist, a man who works to the point of exhaustion and possesses a passion for and knowledge of football that is unmatched. Combine that with the fact that no coach in the N.F.L knows how to get more out of less, and you have the makings of a perennial championship contender.

Sadly for Ryan’s fans and friends, being a head coach these days has very little to do with X’s and O’s and more to do with your personality. And the two personality traits that are stopping him from being a great head coach are the same two that make him a great human being: He is loyal to the point of defiance, and he cares enormously about the people around him.

I can certainly side with the schematic point of view. Ryan, who started his run as a defensive coach for Eastern Kentucky in 1987, has forgotten more about defensive football than most people will ever know. His book, "Coaching Football's 46 Defense," is a must-buy primer on a host of concepts for anyone interested in the Xs-and-Os of the game. But as Pryce wrote, that matters little when you're the one overseeing the team -- and it's why coaches like Norv Turner, Wade Phillips, and Dick LeBeau have not been able to succeed as the head guys despite their legitimate playbook genius.

More of Pryce's take:

Ryan somehow winds up with players nobody wants and then talks about them as if they are Pro Bowlers in order to build their confidence. In some cases, he is right, and the player ends up being a contributor for years. Bart Scott is one of the most successful examples. But in way too many cases Ryan is wrong, and that reality eventually becomes painfully apparent. The examples of defensive end Aaron Maybin and all of his current quarterbacks come to mind.

No one ever said Ryan was not a tough coach or a competitor. He is. It’s the reason he used to record the fights in practice and took the Jets to two AFC championship games in a row. But these days being tough is not quite enough. In today’s world of access and social media, a head coach also has to be cold and calculating.

Agreed, and that's not always done the same way from coach to coach. You don't have to throw tantrums or engage in feuds with the media to put that across. Having covered the Seahawks through Pete Carroll's tenure, I know that Carroll hasn't changed the way he is in casual conversation that much from his days at USC, or from his failed shots with the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the 1990s. But what Carroll learned over time is that if his players aren't concerned about their employment status and places on the starting lineup at all times, problems will ensue.

[Also: Jets consider dumping Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow | Door opens for McElroy]

Thus, even though he doesn't seem mercenary during his press conferences and media blips, Carroll has created an undercurrent of murderous competition beneath his snappy "Always Compete" slogan. If he signs you to a big off-season deal, as he and general manager John Schneider did with quarterback Matt Flynn, and a rookie out-plays you -- as Russell Wilson did from the start of the 2012 pre-season -- that contract doesn't mean a thing. You're not getting on the field.

And as Pryce notes, that's what Ryan needs to develop.

The day is going to come when his player and coaching decisions will be made with the same cutthroat efficiency that you find in places like New England, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Ryan will realize he has no choice but to develop that same poisonous “him or me” attitude that permeates almost every other head coach in the NFL. And on that day the Jets will gain one of the better head coaches in the league. At the same time they will lose one of its better human beings.

I'm not sure the change has to be all that dramatic from a human standpoint, though I understand that Pryce is going to see it differently from a player's perspective. You can be cut-throat in your business and still be a good guy, though it's a pretty complex balancing act. But Pryce has a very good point. Coordinators and position coaches tend to adopt an "us against the world" attitude with their players. It's a tight fraternity. However, when you become a head coach and it's your job to govern the entire world, so to speak, your perspective must change.

I think that if Rex Ryan is fired from his current position, he'll come back with another team at another time and be a successful head coach. I think he does have that "world view" so important to the job. But there's no doubt he'll have to continue to work on it, and learn from the mistakes that have led to two straight lost seasons for the Jets.

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