Head coaches aren't supposed to have this much fun, but the New York Jets' Rex Ryan must have missed the memo.
Let's hear it for administrative oversight.
Never, ever, ever has it been more enjoyable to be around the Jets than now, and I'm not sure whom you thank first. Atlanta? It was the Falcons' rejection of Ryan that pushed him to this job. Baltimore? The Ravens kept him after rejecting their defensive coordinator as a head coaching candidate, and without last season and the help of people like John Harbaugh -- who beat Ryan to the job -- Ryan wouldn't be where he is now. Or how about Jets owner Woody Johnson? He took a chance on someone no one else would.
|It's all fun and games: Ryan and Thomas Jones enjoy a hoedown during a recent practice. (AP)|
Yes, the Jets have to win and all that, but, hey, it's June. Tell me what's more interesting: The next chapter of Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings or Ryan poking a stick in the eye of the Patriots and their head coach.
"Look," Ryan said, "when I took this job, I said I was going to be myself. That's the commitment I made. I was just going to be true to myself and enjoy the process.
"Obviously, we haven't been scored upon, so it's a little easier to have a good time than it will be when we lose a game. But this is a game. I know it's a multi-million-dollar business, but at the end of the day it's still a game.
"It's an honor to be in this position, and it's really a dream come true. But there are probably a lot more things that are more important than this. So I'm just going to enjoy it and have as much fun as I can. And I want our team to have fun as well."
Mission accomplished. Last week Ryan clowned around with players and assistants during OTAs, lining up behind center to take snaps, dodge pass rushes and throw the ball downfield. It was easy to find him. He was the guy having the most fun on the practice fields, laughing after another wobbly pass soared over his receiver's head, and he's the guy having the most fun off the field, too.
It was Ryan who last week said he didn't take the Jets' job to "kiss Bill Belichick's rings," and you better believe that will be regurgitated the week before the Sept. 20 meeting between New England and the Jets. But why stop there? Ryan then playfully taunted Miami linebacker Channing Crowder, saying he "walked over tougher guys going to a fight." That provoked a series of exchanges that had Crowder offer Ryan congratulations on becoming the NFL's OTA Super Bowl champ -- a reminder that virtually nothing that is spoken now matters anyway.
But that's precisely the point. Ryan understands, and to help us get through this month he's offering entertainment that makes the Jets must reads in tomorrow's sports pages. Love them or hate them, you can't ignore them. Not with Ryan taking pot shots at the Patriots and safety Kerry Rhodes declaring the Jets -- not Baltimore or Pittsburgh or Tennessee -- as the best defense in the NFL.
"Sometimes people take you literally for everything you say," Ryan said, "but this is all good fun and all that kind of stuff. I'm not going to be the stereotypical guy, and I haven't been my whole life. What works for me may not work for other people. But it's what worked for me all my life."
Fortunately, it got him to the Jets, and that's where Atlanta comes in. When Ryan last week was asked if he ever thought he never would get a head coaching job, he nodded. As a matter of fact, he said, when he missed out on one opening -- he didn't say which -- he was convinced he was destined to be a defensive coordinator for life -- which was OK, but Ryan knew what he wanted. And what he wanted was to be a head coach.
"So what was the team?" I asked. "Baltimore?"
"Nope," he said. "Atlanta. At Baltimore I never had a chance at it. I was part of a staff that won five games [in 2007], and I knew they weren't going to promote from within. They can say they gave me an honest chance and all that, but if they did they would've given me the job.
"But with Atlanta I thought I just hit it off really well with the owner, Arthur Blank, and I thought we were speaking the same language. I really thought I was going to get the job. And then they bring in a new general manager and, for whatever reason, I never got it.
"I was hoping one day I'd get an opportunity to be a head coach, but after I never did I thought maybe this is just not going to happen, no matter who I am. So I decided I was going to try to take it out on the league. That was going to be the key that motivated me and to, basically, make people say they're going to have to give me a job."
|Ryan made his bones as the Ravens' defensive coordinator. (Getty Images)|
"I could've gone a number of places," he said. "I had six or seven calls [to be a defensive coordinator] and would've made a lot more money going other places. But I wanted to stay there with my players. That's how I approached the job. I was going to help John Harbaugh, and he was going to help me in this process of becoming a head coach."
They both succeeded, and, trust me, Ryan would not be where he is today without the Ravens, Harbaugh, his staff and the Baltimore defense.
"I had a great desire to prove that I could take the same group [of defensive players] and, if they were healthy, we could dominate," Ryan said. "So I was happy to go back and do it. The other thing is I thought I grew a lot under John, and I think I helped there, too. I think I helped him make decisions that had an effect on our team in a good way.
"I had a lot of support from [GM] Ozzie [Newsome] and [owner] Steve Bisciotti. I was there for nine years, and I felt like that was my football team -- whether I was the head coach or not. I felt like I had created a culture in that building and a pride in the defense.
"Maybe I wasn't the right guy to come in and have the whole team buy in, but I know one thing. It's right now. It's about the people I'm with -- all the guys I'm with here at the Jets -- and I feel like this is my football team."
Ryan is no dummy. He knows he will be measured by what he does from September on. If the Jets don't win, it doesn't matter what he says about Belichick, Crowder or the Atlanta Falcons. It won't matter because he will be gone. But he also understands that this is June, and June is all about setting the table for now and the season. Pardon me, but there is nobody I would rather listen to right now.
"If there's pressure," Ryan said, "it's going to come on me, not on our team. And that's where I want it. I've got broad shoulders. I can take it. Everything should be directed at me. Most of this stuff that's said is just funny. I'm not worried about it. What I worry about is our football team and getting better.
"With the Belichick comments, my twin brother [Rob] has two Super Bowl rings under Bill Belichick so there's clearly respect for the man. But I'm not intimidated by him. I'm not intimidated by him, anybody else in this league or any team in this league. Our players won't be, either, and they shouldn't be.
"Why should we take a back seat to anyone? The money is divvied up, and the league is happy. Everyone has the same spending, so there's no advantage there. And that's when I think: How can I go in and say, 'Gosh, I don't want to say this or that. Maybe we shouldn't do this or we certainly can't compete for the Super Bowl.'
"We have every chance to compete for the Super Bowl, just like everyone else, but our football team has to believe in each other. And that's what my focus is. I don't care if [I upset] any player, coach or fan base. I'm not trying to be disrespectful to their teams, but I really don't care about their teams. I care about the team I'm with."
Now, so do I.