Rex Ryan's Act Is a Hit Where It Counts
But there's one place where Ryan's act has won him the most devoted of fans, and it's a place where that counts the most. The Jets' locker room is full of players who have not only bought into Ryan, but who speak of him with something resembling ... well, love.
"I think this is a magical place, and I definitely believe that is a special head coach," said linebacker Bart Scott, one of three former Ravens defensive players Ryan brought with him when he left his job as Baltimore's defensive coordinator to take the job coaching the Jets. "There aren't too many head coaches, if there are any, like him. Guys play for him because he takes so much for his players and he loves his players. He's out on the front line with his players. When you're stretching, when you see him in the hallways, when you see him in meetings, he's not just there watching. He's interacting, and not only with the people who are perceived to be the stars or the starters. He's there with the last man on the roster as well."
Scott knows whereof he speaks. He was an undrafted free agent in Baltimore, and he says Ryan made a point of making sure he got just as much coaching as the Ravens' defensive starters did, so that if there was a chance there was a star player inside of him, it had a chance to come out. That's why Scott is so fiercely loyal to the coach he followed up I-95 to New Jersey.
"When you're the last man on the roster like I was, and then you become a guy that's perceived as a star or somebody that's important within the scheme and the success of the team, you want to go out and continue to be successful, not only for yourself but for him as well," Scott said. "I came here because I was honored that he chose to have his legacy intertwined with mine, and that is a huge responsibility. I'm dedicated to seeing that he's successful. Not for myself, but for him."
Scott's relationship with Ryan may have the deepest roots, but everybody in the locker room seems to have a story. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez on Wednesday spoke of a couple of times this year when he'd wander into Ryan's office after a tough game looking for -- and finding -- support.
"He'd say, 'Man, this is what you signed up for. It's all right. It's going to get better. You're working at it. You're studying. You're doing all the things you need to do,'" Sanchez said. "He's like, 'Now, let's go face the media, you and me. You know who's going to get all the praise and all the blame. It's us, so get ready for it.' He's just been honest and up front, and it's really helped me."
The jokes Ryan cracks in his press conferences aren't much different from the ones he cracks on the practice field or in his locker room speeches. The players like his self-deprecation, his humor, his honesty and, most of all, the confidence he so obviously has in them. Offensive lineman Damien Woody, who played on Super Bowl championship teams for Bill Belichick in New England, said it feels a lot different to play in a place where the Super Bowl is talked about so openly as an attainable -- and expected -- goal.
"I like it. It's refreshing," Woody said. "Rex just wants to lay it out there in front of guys like, 'Hey, it's right there for the taking. Why can't it be us who go out and win this whole thing?' So I like it. It's a fresh approach, and now it's tangible. Guys can see it. It's right there in front of them, and now we feel like we can go out and take it."
Safety Jim Leonhard, another of the defensive players Ryan brought with him from Baltimore, said the key to Ryan's style is his honesty. He makes up a game ball from the San Diego win and sends it to Marty Schottenheimer, because he knows what that win meant to the former Chargers coach and his son, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And coaches and players know Ryan well enough by now that they don't wonder whether he's doing any of this stuff for effect. They know he believes what he's saying.
"A coach can say all the good things he wants, but if it's not true, or if he doesn't back it up, you're not going to respect it," Leonhard said. "Rex gives you the truth, even when you're not going to like it, and that's what makes him great."
And in the end, when all the bluster and colorful quotes have played themselves out, what the players in the Jets' locker room know above all else is that their coach is on their side.
"It's how much he really cares about the players," fullback Tony Richardson said. "Anytime there's a situation with scheduling or with the front office or the media or anything like that, he always wants what's best for the players. And that's nice. If a guy gets nicked up, he's in the trainer's room, asking how you're doing. When you know your coach cares about you, that makes you want to go out and run through a wall for him."