The Jets’ soon-to-be former fearless leader never learned from his father’s mistakes. Dave Chmiel questions why anyone should trust him with another franchise.
They are likable guys, full of salty sideline confrontations and press-conference bravado. No filters, no mute buttons. Their players cherish them. Journalists love their quote-machine egos. They are unparalleled defensive coordinators, the architects of intricate, aggressive Katie-bar-the-door attacks that led teams to the Super Bowl.
But they also are inept head coaches, throwing the offenses under the proverbial bus to celebrate their exalted defenders, all while tossing away the obsessive attention to detail that on-field leaders must embrace. Their records — and traits — are eerily similar.
Is it the old man or the chip off the old block? Take the Buddy-or-Rex Blowhard Challenge:
- “Well, you have got a winner in town. Look at who your owner hired. That will show you he wants to win.”
- “I am not here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.”
- “Heck yeah, I am not afraid of anything.”
- “You take a swipe at one of our, we’ll take a swipe at two of yours.”
- “I told the quarterback to just give me five plays a game. The defense will take care of the rest of it.”
- “I have said all along that I feel good, that we could win with either [quarterback A] or [quarterback B] and I have always said that.”
(Answers: 1) Buddy, when he got his second head-coaching job; 2) Rex, when he got his first; 3) Rex, deep in the denial during this dreadful Jets season. 4)Rex, when hired by Jets; 5) Buddy, of Randall Cunningham; 6) Rex, of the Michael Vick/Geno Smith Jets “quarterbacks”)
Here’s another quote, which could apply to either head coach:
“The [pick the team] increasingly have been characterized as an undisciplined club, out of control, in keeping with Ryan’s bombastic personality. While Ryan was able to construct a strong defense, the team were often victims of poor special-teams play and disappearing offense. Three times this season, they lost fourth-quarter leads… Ryan was viewed as a poor game-day coach.”
That analysis came from a 1991 Baltimore Evening Sun story on the firing of Buddy Ryan as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like Father . . .
Ryan the elder had no interest in offense, special teams, team unity, or anything that had to do with the attention to detail head coaches must focus on to lead a franchise. He once allegedly offered a bounty for any Eagles player who hit the Dallas Cowboys’ kicker hard enough to force him out of the game. Mike Golic, former Eagles defensive lineman and co-host of “Mike & Mike” on ESPN radio, said Ryan once left the practice field during a practice in Chicago so he could sit in his car while the offense ran through its plays. Ryan started with a record of 12-20 in his first two seasons while building the league’s best defense and hoping the erratic Cunningham could scratch out enough points to win.
He was fired in Philadelphia, despite a record of 43-35-1 — and despite going 12-20 in his first two seasons — because his talented teams couldn’t win a single playoff game. But his real downfall was the fact that Eagles owner, Norman Braman (who, it would turn out, had issues of his own), couldn’t deal with the turmoil Ryan created, either with opposing coaches (whose hands he refused to shake after games) and in his own locker room (where he referred to players only by their numbers). It’s not that he didn’t believe Ryan could win games, it’s that he didn’t believe the team could avoid implosion before the playoff victories came.
Buddy Ryan was a football lifer whose defense keyed the New York Jets’ lone Super Bowl victory, also led Bud Grant’s Minnesota Vikings defense as they made runs to the Super Bowl. He also created the vaunted “46” defense that propelled the 1986 Chicago Bears to Super Bowl supremacy. The years of hard work led him to two stints as head coach, first with the Eagles, then with the Phoenix Cardinals. Incidentally, Ryan’s record in Arizona was 12-20, which could have foreshadowed the success that followed his start with the Eagles, but then-owner Bill Tidwell couldn’t stomach the prospect of enduring more drama. As a head coach, Buddy was revealed to be a spectacular defensive coordinator.
The Philadelphia fans inhabit the City of Buddy Love, embracing the pugnacious genius, warts and all.
. . . Like Sons
Jets fans are about thisclose to the “Iggles” blue-collar fan base and have rallied around Rex, the big lug with the genetic coding to lead a smothering defense and ignore the rest of the responsibilities for running a team. Rex, and his twin brother, Rob (acclaimed New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator), followed in the family business, creating personalities as rough-and-ready rogue geniuses who instill loyalty among their search-and-destroy defensive units.
Rex made the professional moves, building impeccable chops as a passionate innovator for a franchise’s defense, establishing a bond as a tireless motivator, a “player’s coach” who creates a lasting bond with his players. His Baltimore Ravens defense was the hallmark of its Super Bowl run. Nearly 20 years after Buddy took the sidelines for the last time as a head coach, Rex faces a crossroads. The New York Jets are 3-11, fourth straight season without a winning record during Ryan’s tenure, regressing each year in ways large and small.
It doesn’t hurt that, for six years, players, present and former, and other insiders have had his back. They have floated the narrative that his general managers, from Mike Tannenbaum to John Idzik, never built a pipeline of better players. Throw in the unnamed “sources close to the situation” who fed stories about troubles with his offensive coordinators (pick any one of them, it was their fault), struggling quarterbacks, and decidedly inadequate offensive talent. Ryan has been combative and humbled, taking responsibility (sort of) by promising to do better. He has been steadfast in constantly praising the skills and professionalism of his players, ignoring the lack of evidence they display.
Even the beat writers and columnists, who love that the Jets are always a story, mostly of the train-wreck variety, have thrown in the towel. Reporters have scrawled in chalk around the corpse of his body of work, while couching their narratives in the inevitability of Jets’ owner Woody Johnson needing to make a change, rather than blasting Ryan for his inability to create a unified culture of team-wide accountability and sustained excellence.
Rex has followed the Buddy blueprint, to his own professional demise. While he is more genial that Buddy, Rex has learned nothing from his father’s career as a head coach. In his first two years with the Jets, he had a rookie quarterback, whom he burdened with the nickname “Sanchise”. But Mark Sanchez had Thomas Jones, he had a tremendous offensive line to support the run game, and he had solid receivers who ran precise routes and chased down high-and-wide passes. The result: one game from the Super Bowl. Then he became a “genius”; no need for consistency or professionalism, no support for more offensive tools. Just give me five plays, and we will cover the rest. That might have worked — temporarily — 25 years ago. But in today’s NFL, not focusing on scoring more points ensures that you will wind up 45-49 (at present). One of Rex’s alleged role models, Bill Parcels — who has known a bit of success in football — is the straight shooter who has long espoused a simple credo: “You are what your record says you are.”
It’s axiomatic that coaches are hired to be fired. It’s a horrible thing to see people get fired, and you can’t wish it on anyone.
One way to keep a job is to be a professional, weed out those who either won’t or can’t match your goals, and create a drama-free culture of sustained excellence.
The sins of the father don’t always infect the son, unless the son isn’t paying attention. As the Jets season limps to its merciful conclusion with the “We thank Rex for his contributions, but it is time to go in another direction…” press conference, the team will start, again. The players and the fans will lament Rex’s change of address for 15 minutes and scream for a replacement — and a quarterback.
Remember who replaced Buddy Ryan in Philadelphia?
It was Rich Kotite, who eventually coached the Jets to a 1-15 season, the only season worse than Rex’s last season with Gang Green. Kotite never coached another NFL game, in any capacity, after his J-E-T-S debacle, and Rex Ryan will have to figure out whether to be defensive — or go on the offensive — as he continues in the family business.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Tony Tribble) New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan watches from the sidelines in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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