Loud Acorns Fall Far From The Ryan Tree


Rex Ryan New York Jets“It gets done at all levels … you’ve got the right guy.”

– Rex Ryan, on his qualifications as head coach, January 2009

“The Jets are coming … You take a swipe at one of ours, we’ll take a swipe at two of yours.”

– Rex Ryan’s message to the league, January 2009

“I just wanted to let you know how much we need you this week. You know, I’ve already admitted that, hey, the Patriots have a better head coach and they’ve got a better quarterback than us. But we’re going to see who’s got a better team.”

– Rex Ryan, voicemail to Jets season ticket holders before week two match-up with the New England Patriots, September 2009

[adinserter block=”1″]He looks like comedian Ron White after a six month eating binge. His hair and his pock-marked face indicate a man who looks far older than his forty-six years of life. The confidence and determination in the expressions listed above are said without a scream or a yell, but rather a reserved swagger. He’s the boisterous, yet soft spoken, gambler at the table who knows his hand is better than yours, even before the cards are dealt. Since his debut with the Baltimore Ravens in 1999, as the lieutenant of Brian Billick, he’s built a defense that could withstand most foreign terror strikes. It was his defensive line that lanced the Super Bowl trophy for Baltimore in 2001. When the Ravens coaching staff was purged following the 2007 season, new coach Jon Harbaugh pulled him from the gas chamber, retaining his services as assistant head coach. One year later, as the new coach of the Jets, he’s been an enigma, taking the perceived softer New York team (compared to the blue collar Giants) and instilling an angry demeanor in the defense, something he’s no stranger to.

What stands out the most about Rex Ryan is that swagger. In an era that has recent head coaches who resemble bumbling, inept, Chris Farley-like klutzes (Eric Mangini, Tom Cable) and soft, whiny pushovers (Jim Zorn, Wade Phillips), Ryan personifies as General Patton without the gruffness. He doesn’t alienate his players. Actually, he includes them. They’re a cleated cult, believing the grandmaster’s gospel that they’re going to steamroll over an excellent Patriots team (and they did). He includes the fans, telling them that they’re just as much a part of their game plan as the fifty-three man roster is. He doesn’t get rattled. He fears no opposing offense. He sets the tone, while everyone who wants to believe….believes.

Why does all of this seem so familiar?

“Coaches didn’t like it because it made them look bad. We hit a lot of quarterbacks, and that was one of the things coaches were a little tender about.”

-Buddy Ryan, 2005

“Trade him for a six pack; it doesn’t even have to be cold.”

-Buddy Ryan, Eagles coach on running back Earnest Jackson, 1986

“The last touchdown was very satisfying. I had it planned all along….I just played the hand that was dealt me.”

-Buddy Ryan, on scoring an unnecessary touchdown to run up the score on Dallas, 1987

From 1968 to 1995, James “Buddy” Ryan made offensive coordinators and opposing starting elevens regret their choice in career. As a master sergeant in the Korean War, perhaps Buddy never fully transitioned to civilian life. Opposing teams were the enemy. They must be broken. This was the Buddy Ryan that helped the Jets defense pull off the upset of a lifetime over the Colts in Super Bowl III (yes, the Guarantee Game). This Buddy Ryan also assembled that Chicago Bears defense that ‘Super Bowl Shuffled” their way into America’s hearts, dancing and singing as a background to the quarterback-splattering onslaught they provided. As the head coach of the Eagles, he allegedly put a bounty on Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas. A similar incident occurred a year later in 1990, when the infamous “Body Bag” game took place, where the Eagles injured eight Redskins, including both quarterbacks. In 1993, as defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers, he punched out offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. On the sideline. During an actual game.

The same matter-of-fact aggressiveness. The same give-em-Hell spirit. The kind of defensive dominance that landed Super Bowl rings as an orchestrator of athletic violence.

Yep. He’s Rex’s dad.

With Buddy out of the NFL for the last fourteen years, happily breeding horses in Kentucky, the game began to lose its ego-driven edge. Coaches like Mike Ditka, Bill Parcells, Jim Mora, Jimmy Johnson, and Barry Switzer all joined Ryan in fading into retirement. The modern NFL is very concerned for its image. With a commissioner like Roger Goodell, one with interest in law enforcement and global marketing, there’s little room for an outlaw to stake his legacy. Players caught failing drug tests are given considerable punishment. Those who break the law may not see the field for a long time. With this image-makeover comes the more diplomatic head coach. Humanized and told to watch their words, the likes of Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Andy Reid, Jeff Fisher, and others are being notably contrite and courteous when speaking to the media. The Buddy Ryans of the world have died with an earlier era.

Or have they?

Rex got his feet wet in the NFL under his dad’s watchful eye. Buddy ended his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, coaching them in 1994 and 1995, while Rex served the defensive line and linebacking corps. There’s little doubt that he developed his defensive instincts from papa. As far as the cacophonous way with words that he possesses, it’s likely that that’s genetic as well, if not a learned trait.

Maybe Rex Ryan doesn’t know how to keep his yapper shut. And you know what? I hope he doesn’t. The drama that he adds to the game by being this noisy motivator for his team, and doing so publicly, makes the games that the Jets play more fun to watch. Rex has become the talk of the league, mostly from people who seem surprised that a coach would spew so much fire in front of the cameras. Why would he do this? Isn’t he afraid of looking bad if/when he loses a big game? What then?

[adinserter block=”2”]For Rex to look at it that way, he’s lost the game. If he tells the media about how badly they’re going to win, his players will want to win. If he says he has the utmost confidence in the guys he fields on Sunday, they’re not going to doubt themselves. Too many coaches now are coddling and afraid to yell. They resemble gentle fathers who say “That’s ok!” when a mistake is made. All that does is give a buffer space for the next mistake. Some teams keep the players in when they insult the club in public or consistently play poorly. Rex Ryan benched a player for tweeting about not getting enough playing time. I’ll bet David Clowney learns from that.

What can this outspoken characteristic do for you? For Buddy Ryan, who built the world champion Jets linebackers of 1969, Minnesota’s ‘Purple People Eaters”, the dominant Bears of the early 80’s, and Philadelphia’s “Gang Green” of the late 80’s, it built him a legacy predicated on success and self-assuredness.

Rex Ryan has self-assuredness. Now comes the success.

When he isn’t watching WWE, TNA, or his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, Justin Henry can be found writing. It is his passion as well as his goal in life to become a well-regarded (as well as well-paid) columnist or author. He tweets at twitter.com/notoriousjrh and facebooks himself at http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh.

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