Why do people love to hate Rex Ryan?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Upon becoming the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Rex Ryan told a real estate agent to find him local housing, “wherever [the] snow dumps the most.” Then he got a big Ford pickup with oversized tires and a customized Bills paint job to prove the point. A photo of that truck was the one that welcomed Ryan’s heralded arrival in Western New York.

Soon we’ll reportedly see his departure, as ESPN says he’ll “probably” be fired after the season and that Ryan is “aware of the situation.”

Here’s guessing if/when that happens, social media will explode with that oddball picture of Rex and his twin brother Rob riding on a two-man bicycle.

It’s a funny photo. Everyone will laugh – laugh not just because of the absurdity of the scene but to laugh at Rex Ryan because he’s somehow become a joke these days, an example of big talk, little action that football finds worthy of scorn. There is nothing the NFL likes more than to snuff out the non-conformist.

Ryan’s Bills are 7-7. They host Miami before wrapping up at the New York Jets. A 9-7 record isn’t out of the question and 8-8 feels likely. Last year, his first in Buffalo, they went 8-8.

Apparently in Buffalo they see a roster that should be dramatically better than that, worthy of dumping Ryan for underachieving. Ryan isn’t denying reality.

“I don’t know what my future holds,” Ryan said after the Bills beat Cleveland on Sunday. “I just know that I’m going to get this team ready to play on Saturday, on Christmas Eve. And I’m excited about that.”

Rex Ryan is 15-15 in two seasons in Buffalo. (Getty Images)
Rex Ryan is 15-15 in two seasons in Buffalo. (Getty Images)

This isn’t a column saying Ryan deserves to keep his job. After more than a decade and a half without making the playoffs, Bills fans deserve better than apologies for .500 football. It’s not like the team is showing a lot of promise. And this certainly isn’t a column signaling that Canton should get ready for Rex Ryan’s enshrinement speech. He hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010 with the Jets.

He is what his record says he is.

Yet, isn’t it worth noting – even if this isn’t some full-throttle defense of the guy – that Rex Ryan’s record says he isn’t that bad of a coach. All things considered, he’s all right, certainly better than perception. He’s 61-65 overall, but that is dragged down by his final, doomed-to-fail 4-12 season with the Jets.

Go consider the rest of his peers. It’s not exactly like there’s an overabundance of sideline geniuses out there.

Look, Ryan talks a lot. He jokes a lot. He likes to be the center of attention, sometimes because it takes pressure off his team and sometimes because that’s just his nature. The bold words and actions through the years earned him more publicity than he deserved. The backlash comes when he isn’t winning enough. His antics back up the perception that he runs a loose ship.

What’s strange is the speed in which the Bills apparently want him gone – the team hasn’t even been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet. Not to mention the joy that seems to come from seeing Ryan “fail”.

Fans rail against the “No Fun League” but having Ryan ridiculed serves as a lesson for a generation of coaches to stick to the conservative script of mumbling clichés and injury reports. That does a lot more to dull down the sport than throwing a flag when a guy jumps into a giant Salvation Army bucket.

Yes, Ryan put a bull’s-eye on his back. Once, when the Jets were going to play Cleveland, Rex attended a press conference dressed up like Rob, then the Browns defensive coordinator, and proceeded to make fun of his brother. Another time in Buffalo he got on a media teleconference, pretended to be “Walt Patalski of the Buffalo News”, and asked New England’s Julian Edelman if he was going to play quarterback while Tom Brady was suspended.

This violated the coaching cardinal rule of taking yourself and the game of football too seriously. In some places he was mocked for both. Shame on him, apparently.

Ryan is a solid NFL coach, though. He won four road NFL playoff games at the beginning of his career, twice reaching the AFC championship game. He beat New England in New England in the 2010 playoffs, never a small accomplishment.

If anything he’s been haunted by the unmovable object that is the Bill Belichick machine in Foxborough. Ryan took over the Jets and added spice to the rivalry by declaring on WFAN: “I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s, you know, rings.”

That he dared to speak (sort of) ill of Belichick was his first mistake.

That one playoff victory aside, Ryan never got any of his teams truly past New England. The two coaches have spent eight years competing against each other and the AFC East championship’s scoreboard reads as such: Belichick 8, Ryan 0. Then again, who else in football has gotten the better of BB?

And the Patriots quarterback all those years? Tom Brady. (Buffalo actually shut out New England in September when Brady was suspended).

Ryan’s starting QBs with the Bills and Jets? Tyrod Taylor, EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel (technically), Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy and Kellen Clemens.

Give Ryan a real QB and who knows? Sanchez was his best and he’s now the third stringer in Dallas. He was told to win with Taylor in Buffalo, yet it’s unlikely the quarterback will return to the team, either.

Under GM Doug Whaley, the Bills' roster has the fewest draft picks of any team in the NFL. (Getty Images)
Under GM Doug Whaley, the Bills’ roster has the fewest draft picks of any team in the NFL. (Getty Images)

It’s indicative of decent-at-best talent. Tim Graham of the Buffalo News found that after four seasons under general manager Doug Whaley, the team has just 22 of its own draft picks on the active roster and 31 overall (counting injured reserve and practice squad). That’s the lowest in the league (even 0-14 Cleveland has 32). As an extreme comparison, Green Bay started 20 draft picks Sunday.

So the Bills draft poorly, which makes them overly reliant on signing free agents. This would be a risky strategy in Miami or L.A. Recruiting great players with multiple options to Buffalo? (This was an actual plot point in the HBO series, “Ballers.”) Let’s just say they better really, really like beef on weck.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Ryan said Tuesday if he wished ownership would tell him one way or the other. “Right now we know we have these two games and, man, I’m excited.”

It may be the last two as a head coach. If so, so be it. Perhaps Ryan goes back to being a defensive coordinator, as he was with the legendary Baltimore teams a decade ago. Maybe he slides into a broadcast booth and gets people to laugh with him again.

Either way, it won’t take long before plenty of folks are wondering why everyone wanted him gone in the first place.

More NFL coverage on Yahoo Sports: