Jets aren't toning it down amid Revis dramaRex Ryan is demanding of his players, but isn't afraid to keep it loose
CORTLAND, N.Y. – The Rex Ryan Revolution will be televised, and if the first episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks" taught us anything earlier this week, it definitely won't be subtle.
In a league notorious for control-freak coaches who shudder at the specter of even the most innocuous revelation, Ryan is laying waste to Bill Belichick's "One Voice" blueprint that dominated the past decade, effectively turning it into his personal handkerchief. Brash, unguarded and unapologetic, the second-year coach has brought glasnost to the New York Jets and levity to the NFL, and this month he's coming to a living room near you.
Coming off a raucous rookie season when his team snuck into the playoffs and made some serious noise before falling in the AFC championship game, Ryan is enjoying his star turn – but he insists he's not going out of his way to play for the cameras. He's merely doing what he always does: staying large and in charge, putting equal premiums on fun and hard work, and predicting championships in a sport in which there are 1,000 "We're just trying to stay within ourselves" automatons for every Joe Namath.
And right now, in the Jets' rowdy universe, Broadway Joe has nothing on Sexy Rexy. At training-camp practices at SUNY Cortland on Friday, Ryan – not for the first time – predicted that his team will win Super Bowl XLV in February and conceded his blessedly big mouth and the Big Apple are a match made in football heaven.
"I have to be me," Ryan said. "I'm in New York – you know what I mean? If I don't win, I'm going to get crushed. That's the facts. So I might as well put it out there.
"I think we're going to win the Super Bowl. I think we're going to win it this [season]. If we don't do it, who do you think it's all going to come down on? Our team believes we're going to win. I believe it. The great thing is, we get to prove it."
Naturally, when a coach and his players publicly set their sights so high, there is major crash-and-burn potential. While Ryan entertains HBO viewers by dropping f-bombs and mocking general manager Mike Tannenbaum for mishandling punts in Cortland, his best player, All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes), is holding out in search of an upgraded contract.
Revis has three years left on his deal, but in fairness to the fourth-year player, Ryan conspicuously proclaimed that he was the NFL's most valuable defensive player last season, and the team approached him shortly after the team's playoff run and expressed a desire to sign him to a lucrative long-term extension.
On Thursday the team and Revis' agents issued a joint statement that, from that point forward, neither side would comment on negotiations. By then it was already clear that the situation had become contentious, and there doesn't seem to be an easy solution in sight.
Because the Jets, in the words of veteran newcomer and longtime pass-rushing standout Jason Taylor(notes), cultivate an atmosphere that promises "no veils, no curtains, no barriers," most of them aren't even bothering to spew the usual "we'll-be-fine-with-the-players-we-have" propaganda that pops up during contract stare downs.
"I'm not going to sit here and lie to you like most people would and tell you, 'Oh, the system's withstood [losses like] that,' " Scott said. "Yeah, the system has withstood that, but it takes a system and great players to be great, and Darrelle's a tremendous player. I can't wait to see him walk in with that goatee and that little knock-kneed walk of his. I'll give him a high-five and we'll give it a go."
If Revis isn't back for the start of the regular season – or longer – "it would just be a shame," veteran tackle Damien Woody(notes) said. "We have so many good things going on. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail. I mean, let's get this thing going. Our defense is already good, and he makes it that much better."
Not that the Revis-less Jets are in any immediate danger of surrendering their swagger.
"There's a certain level of swagger the team carries," said Taylor, who spent most of his decorated career with the Miami Dolphins and jumped to the rival Jets in April after being won over by Ryan's recruiting pitch. "It trickles down from the head coach. I think that's good.
"I don't think you'd look at the Los Angeles Lakers as the most humble team. Even the Saints last year – they weren't necessarily humble. You've got to have a borderline cockiness to be champions. We still respect our opponent. At the same time, we're not going to be intimidated."
They will, however, be targeted – a prospect that elicits a collective shrug from Ryan and his players.
"It's not [a worry], because we're on a mission," the coach said. "We're targeting every opponent, and somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose. In a way, are we hated by people? Maybe so, but if you're good, that's what's going to happen. If people like you and all that stuff, it means you're probably not winning all that much, that you're not a threat."
Ryan's style is a threat to the prevailing wisdom that secrecy, autocracy and false humility give football teams a competitive edge.
"That's kind of the old-school way of going about things," Scott said. "We're always respectful, but never fearful. The bottom line is when you play for Rex, you believe in yourself. And if you decide to tell people you believe in yourself, that's your right."
Said Woody, who played for Belichick in New England: "Guys actually like [speaking out], to be honest with you. It's in the Constitution – freedom of speech. Guys are just expressing themselves, and Rex encourages it."
Future Hall of Fame halfback LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), who signed with the Jets in March after being released by the San Diego Chargers, said playing for Ryan is "fun every single day. He makes it fun. He makes you want to come to work. It challenges you to get better.
"Some teams' coaches and front-office [executives] have a tendency to treat guys like they're in high school or college. We're grown men that have families, just like they do. Here, they treat you like men. It makes it easier to come to work."
The Jets not only have fun with their targeted status, but they also believe it can work to their advantage.
"We're built to take hits," Scott said. "Trust me, we can take the hits. Our talking can work against teams. They're so focused on trying to kick your ass, they may forget about what the gameplan is. We're used to talking stuff. If they're not used to it, they can lose their focus."
As much as Ryan, in the words of cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes) (acquired in an offseason trade with the Chargers), is "refreshing" and "genuine," the coach also happens to be exceptionally smart. A gifted and innovative defensive strategist, Ryan makes no effort to downplay his prowess in that department.
"I think I'm the best that way," he said. "But it isn't just me, it's my team – [defensive backs coach] Dennis Thurman and [defensive coordinator] Mike Pettine and myself have been together a long time. I know who's copying us. The whole league tries to copy us!"
"I don't know if I'm sounding cocky, but I think we're pretty good across the board," Woody said. "Are we perfect? No. But if we keep working and doing the little things, we can be a pretty good football team."
And by keeping things light and hyping it up, Ryan and his players are doing a pretty good job of recruiting future reinforcements. This summer, thanks to "Hard Knocks," they're destination-viewing. Next spring – depending on the state of the league's tenuous labor situation – Ryan's locker room could become the most desirable destination for free agents.
"We're saying, 'Look at our product. Come join us,'" Woody said. "We have fun in practice. We talk smack. Practices are competitive. It goes by fast. I think the word is leaking out to guys around the league: This is where you want to be. If you polled all those guys around the league about whether they'd want to be over here, it would be in the high 90s."
If "Hard Knocks" is hammering home that appeal, Ryan is happy to do what comes naturally and ham it up for the cameras.
"[People watching] get a great idea of who we are, the kind of people we have in our organization and the way we do things," he said. "We think we have a tremendous group of players with great chemistry and a great way of preparing. We work hard, and we have fun. I think guys like to be here."
And if the Jets make Ryan's predictions come true and win it all on Super Sunday?
Well, that revolution would be televised to a much larger audience.