FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Buddy Ryan didn't want either of his sons to be a coach. Yet, the irascible patriarch of one of the NFL's great coaching families did not wince when Rex Ryan continued to pour napalm on the AFC East.
As the newest New York Jets coach opened his latest media session, Ryan didn't just defend his recent remarks about refusing to back down from big boys like Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, he furthered them.
Ryan opened with a swipe Tuesday at Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder(notes), who recently chided the first-year coach for his braggadocios ways, such as when he said he didn't become a head coach "to kiss Bill Belichick's rings."
Crowder, whose sense of humor isn't far removed from Ryan's, joked that the coach was "the OTA [organized team activity] Super Bowl winner."
In response, Ryan's refrain was basically, "Channing who?"
"I don't know who Channing Crowder is," Ryan said. "But I'm certainly not going to worry about what somebody else has to say."
Ryan then finished his riff by saying, "If I was younger, I'd take care of this myself."
Ryan said it all with his broad, trademark grin.
For any red-blooded, football-loving person, this was beautiful and brilliant. For Jets fans, and especially the media that covers the team, this was like a cool wind after three years of Sahara-dry quotes from Eric Mangini. Mangini's toothless ramblings came off as very scripted and falsely antiseptic. He sounded more like an archaeology professor than a football coach; about as inspiring as a hard-boiled egg.
Those who believe in etiquette will chide Ryan for egging on the competition, unnecessarily motivating his opponents with bulletin-board fodder.
The counter to such criticism: As if folks in the NFL don't already play hard.
"You get everybody's best every week in this league," Ryan said.
All the while, the elder Ryan sat nearby and listened intently, never cracking a smile.
This is the Ryan way, although slightly modified. Buddy Ryan wasn't just one of the great trash talkers in NFL coaching history; he was the embodiment of fighting spirit. Buddy Ryan, the inventor of the 46 defense and the hyper-blitzing mentality of the past 25 years in the NFL, took figurative shots during his career at the likes of Jimmy Johnson and Don Shula, not to mention a literal one at Kevin Gilbride.
The elder Ryan also is a key cog to one of the critical moments in NFL history. He was a defensive assistant of the Jets team that posted the first great upset in Super Bowl history in 1969. That victory helped drive the NFL's popularity and is part of the fabric of American sports history.
The Jets featured a great defense designed by Ryan and trash-talking quarterback Joe Namath. Rex Ryan was just a child at the time and he obviously learned well from his father and Namath, though the younger Ryan's banter is meant to be degrading.
"Really, what I'm saying about Belichick is a compliment," Ryan said. "I know he's a great coach, and I respect that. But I'm not going to back down to it. I'm not going to be scared just because he has three championships. I've been part of a team that won a Super Bowl, and my family has been in six of them. I know what it takes in this league, and I'm confident about that."
While most people prefer the graciousness of Tony Dungy, there is nothing wrong with what Ryan is saying. In fact, it's essential. In the NFL, confidence and the willingness to display it are prerequisites. Coaches, players, executives and even fans smell weakness as easily as a cattle ranch on a mid-summer day.
Unfortunately, too many people misinterpret what Ryan is saying. One New York writer referred to Ryan's "rings" comment as a "diss" of Belichick in asking a Jets player a question about the remark.
In reality, Ryan is doing the verbal equivalent of chest-bumping his players, and they're listening. In this alpha-male world, Ryan is putting it out there on display for all to see.
"When you have a coach who believes in you and has that kind of confidence, it can only make you feel confident," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said. "He thinks he is a quarterback, defensive lineman and offensive lineman, and he puts it out there. He wears his emotion on his sleeve, and it's good for us."
If nothing else, it's the only thing that has ever worked for the Jets. It has been 40 years since Namath and the elder Ryan helped turn pro football upside down, showing that some upstarts from the AFL could run with the best of the NFL.
And just as Namath ruffled feathers way back when with his famed guarantee of victory, Ryan is putting himself out there the way some people walk a tightrope.
In a three-ring circus, of course.
- Rex Ryan
- Buddy Ryan
- Bill Belichick