Ryan is really sorry for letting those liquored-up Strikeforce fight fans in South Florida goad him into throwing the camera phone-ready middle-fingered salute at an MMA event during the NFL's Pro Bowl week. He's deeply, truly sorry from the bottom of his gut -- literally -- that he ever decided to swap out that Philadelphia Flyers jersey to Carolina Hurricanes' attire at a Feb. 9 NHL game in Raleigh, N.C.
The viral video of Ryan's pasty, corpulent fully exposed belly during that very public wardrobe change -- hey, the Hurricanes cheerleaders offered him the jersey! -- is the sort of staggering mental image that will make you swear off nacho cheese forever.
"I don't even know what to say, gosh, it's been a while since I get to talk about my football team, brag about my football team if you will," the second-year Jets coach said Saturday while equally large offensive linemen grunted through drills at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I appreciate everybody's interest in making sure that I was still in the papers and all those other things -- the video. Hey, I am working on those abs a little bit, I think."
The room at Lucas Oil Stadium busted out in laughter -- much like Ryan was busting out of that jersey. And so the one-liners continued. You may be sick of hearing about the NFL's ongoing labor strife. But you can never get enough of Ryan's off-the-cuff honest shtick, which flows like atta-boy standup comedy in the break room at the local factory.
So, about those bulging abs, Rex ...
"The problem that happened with that wardrobe... I was at the hockey game - and first off all I would like to say USA, let's go take care of business, really proud of the way they are playing (at the Olympics)," Ryan riffed, "but what happened, I thought I had the fighting strap attached to the T-shirt. Apparently I didn't. Big mistake. But I appreciate everybody having such a special interest in that."
Camera rolled. More laughter.
Was Ryan born for this kind of Big Apple-style notoriety? You bet. A defensive genius as a coordinator and longtime NFL position coach, bolstered by the family tree and his wildly intricate schemes -- delayed blitzes, overloaded pressure, line shifts and stunts are his trademark -- the gregarious Ryan is now a certified NFL celebrity.
When the coaching brilliance that helped an underdog Jets team reach the AFC championship game with a rookie quarterback confronts a microphone, it's unfiltered, unassuming and so insightful in the flesh, you feel like you want to crack open a tall cold one and talk football with Ryan all day long.
Just don't bait the guy. He's figured that out.
Remember when Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha made the wisecrack during the Pro Bowl about wanting to team up with All Pro Darrelle Revis? Asomugha, a funny, smart player, was messing with us. It was hilarious until word spread out of Alameda, Calif. that team owner Al Davis may have multiple Raiders available for trade -- including the well-compensated Asomugha ($28.5 million guaranteed).
Have the Raiders come out and denied that, like they routinely deny reports that the sun will come out tomorrow? Curiously, no.
Asked about Asomugha's tongue-in-cheek Pro Bowl proclamation that he would eventually become a Jet, Ryan expertly put up his "NFL Tampering" wall and shut down the questioning.
"Ah, there we go. You are trying to get me. I get myself in enough trouble (laughter). Alright? So I really don't need your help to get me in trouble," he responded. "I think I will pass on talking about any player that is under contract."
But while Ryan isn't yapping about players he can't openly discuss, he is hamstrung going forward in 2010 by this: The Jets' astonishing success last season made them a so-called "Final Four" team according to the language of the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement. That status severely limits the team's ability to pursue unrestricted free agents starting Friday.
In an uncapped 2010, the best four finishers from '09 – the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, the Indianapolis Colts, the Minnesota Vikings and the Jets -- are not permitted to negotiate with nor sign any unrestricted free agent except for players who were cut or were on another Final Four team when their contract expired.
"I think it is a penalty for sure," said Ryan, who also acknowledged his Jets will have a much tougher schedule in 2010. "Because you might be, maybe you need a tight end or whatever it is and you don't have that ability to go out and get some of the top guys that might be available."
The serious, football-minded Ryan spoke about how he has no regrets for playing quarterback Mark Sanchez as a rookie, which paid off as the former Southern Cal star emerged as a poised, polished pro, straight out of college. He agreed that maligned Jets' 2008 No. 1 pick, linebacker Vernon Gholston -- Ryan's personal project and a player he cares about -- has to show something in Year 3 of his NFL career or he'll be branded a bona fide bust.
"I think that is an accurate statement. Generally by the third year, you got to see a guy really making strides and I expect Vernon to really make strides this year," Ryan said.
This is a man who loves his football team and his players. The sentiment is returned. While Ryan's comedic stylings often distract from the genuine football intelligence he possesses, it's a pretty fair bet the New York Jets are in good hands in 2010.
Now Rex ... about flipping the middle finger to the heckling MMA fans, the move that cost you a $50,000 fine from your organization ...
Saturday was the first time he publicly addressed that widely publicized camera phone shot. Which very well may be a home screen image on the computers and phones of millions of Jets fans.
"I mean, I got to be, regardless of the circumstances, I made a mistake and I realized that. I have made a bunch of mistakes in my life," said Ryan, trying to be really serious. "There is no question about it. Just add that to a big list. But I've got to, I have to take responsibility for my own actions and I have to make sure I am doing the right things and I am trying to do the right things and avoiding making mistakes like that. I will learn from it, there is no doubt. I am no Boy Scout and I don't pretend to be. But I am certainly trying to mature a little bit more.
"I am going to be who I am and I am still going to take the train into the city and all that kind of stuff and I am still going to go to sporting events even though it seems like I mess up all the time. But I am going to be who I am and be true to myself and that is the way it is going to be as long as I am a coach."
Good to hear, Rex. Just don't go overboard with that maturity push. We kind of like you, just the way you are.