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The Evolution of New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan: 2009

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As the Rex Ryan era enters its 5th season with the Jets it is appropriate to take a look back and see if the Rex Ryan who is coaching the Jets now still bears resemblance to one that started this era. Has he changed? Has that change been for the better? What has his evolution looked like and how does that affect this coming season? Those are the questions that need to be answered by the most interesting coach the Jets have ever had and certainly one of the best.

We will look at Rex Ryan through his own words in each of his first four years with the Jets. In the first part we will look at his beginnings in 2009. On Thursday we will look at the wild year that was 2010. Next Monday will focus on the drama of 2011 as times began to change. Next Thursday looks at a changed man in 2012 as everything that could go wrong did. Finally we will focus on 2013 and hopefully beyond.

After the late season collapse that ended Eric Mangini’s time with the Jets in 2008 the Jets were looking to go in a different direction. Mangini had Florham Park locked down like a fortress with absolutely no information coming out of the building and the personality he portrayed was stoic and antagonistic just like his mentor Bill Belichick. Enter Rex Ryan. Ryan was the long time defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens and the son of the great defensive mind Buddy Ryan. Rex was a straight shooter who said what he felt and believed not caring what anyone else thought. Here is the very first thing he said in his introductory press conference:

First off, with all the cameras I was looking for our new president back there (smiling). I think we’ll get to meet him in the next couple of years anyway. (From transcript printed in the New York Post from January 21, 2009)

That summed up Rex Ryan perfectly in his first statement he was already talking Super Bowl. He went on to describe what the hallmark of his teams would be in another quote from the same press conference:

We’re going to try to put pressure on everybody that we play with our style of play. We want to be known as the most physical football team in the NFL, and whatever that means, you figure it out. We’re going to take care of each other. The players will have each other’s backs. If you take a swipe at one of ours, we’ll take a swipe at two of yours, and that’s just the way this game is going to be played.

He carried that bravado into the season and proved there was substance behind his talk in Week 2 against the Patriots. During the week he left a recorded message on each season ticket holder’s voicemail imploring them to be loud then he showed he would not back down to Bill Belichick by saying this:

“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. I came here to win, let’s put it that way. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.”

Then he followed that up by beating the Patriots that day and serving notice to the rest of the league that something special was happening with the Jets.

Feb 21, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Jets coach Rex Ryan speaks at a press conference during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There was no filter on Ryan in 2009. He broke down and cried after the Jacksonville game and declared the Jets out of the playoffs prematurely after a Week 15 loss to the Falcons. He openly said he was hoping the Colts would rest their starters in Week 16 giving the Jets a chance to sneak in the playoffs. All of those things are not what head coaches normally say or do. Other coaches learn to talk a lot without saying anything, to speak in tired clichés and never rile up the opposition. Ryan was just himself.

As the Jets entered the playoffs as prohibitive underdogs Rex Ryan was unfazed when he was asked about the long odds in Vegas he delivered this response:

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Ryan said when asked about being underdogs. “But to me we should be favorites. I mean in the whole tournament. I think we have the best defense; I know we do. I think we have the best rushing attack. I want this football team. If I had a choice to coach any team in this tournament, I would choose this one.”

His confidence in his team drove them to victories over the Bengals and Chargers and to within a half of going to the Super Bowl.

2009 Rex Ryan was on a mission to prove to himself, his players, the fans, and the rest of the league that his brash, honest, open style could work. The Jets embodied Ryan’s message as they were physical both offensively as they led the league in rushing and on defense as they were number 1 in the league. Ryan had his philosophies and coaching style validated by 2009’s surprise run as an underdog and he was ready to be even more bold as a favorite in 2010.

Next time we will examine the 2010 Rex Ryan from Hard Knocks to another AFC Title game appearance and all of the fun in between. How would Rex evolve from 2009 to 2010? Hint: He would turn the volume up to 11.

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