JIM LITKE, AP Sports Columnist
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Jets and hurly-burly coach Rex Ryan have been selling wince-worthy moments for months. There’s no chance they’re going to stop now.
Attention, good and bad, was the point behind giving the “Hard Knocks” cameras almost unfettered access to training camp. So for Ryan to feign surprise that his players can’t stop acting out — and worse — just because the real season has begun is either disingenuous or dangerously naive.
“Quite honestly, I’m tired of dealing with some of these issues,” he said earlier this week, after Braylon Edwards’ drunk-driving arrest delivered the latest body blow to the team’s reputation.
“I’m tired of the embarrassment to our owner and this organization. Let’s just end it. Let’s stop it. Whatever it is, however severe or minor, we don’t need to be that team,” Ryan added. “This team works too hard to be looked at in this light.”
There’s no condoning what Edwards did, but not much to be gained, either, by excoriating the coach for the lenient punishment about to be meted out. Ryan has only so much leeway because of the disciplinary process set out in the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
The Jets can’t suspend or deactivate Edwards without risking a run-in with the union. They can limit his playing time, but other than indicating Edwards won’t start the game, Ryan didn’t seem inclined to keep him on the bench for very long.
Some surprise. Rex learned much of what he knows about the profession from his father, and while his dad was proud to be called cantankerous and rightly hailed as a defensive genius, Buddy Ryan might have taken even more pride in his reputation as a “player’s coach.”
Guys who played well for Buddy enjoyed a wide berth, and the same seems to be true for the son. That’s because both Ryans get a kick out of intimidating opponents and then handing their own players responsibility for cashing the checks. And it works well, at least for a while.
Buddy won a Super Bowl calling the shots in Chicago for one of the most fearsome defenses ever. But after a few seasons, even those nasty Bears got tired of having to back up his boasts. Hard-hitting safety Gary Fencik used to joke that “Buddy was like my favorite uncle; the one I wanted to tell, ‘Shut up.’”
Buddy went on to pull the same stunts in Philadelphia and Arizona, but applied even less discipline and never quite matched the success of his earlier years. Two seasons after arriving at the Cardinals’ headquarters with the promise of “You’ve got a winner in town,” he was fired and headed back to his horse farm in Kentucky.
Rex arrived in New York with the same sharp tongue. He barely hit the city line before making clear he wasn’t there to “kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.”
“I came to win,” the then-rookie coach said in one of his earliest radio interviews, calling out his most successful AFC East rival, “let’s put it that way.”
Nothing Rex Ryan has done since, including last year’s run deep into the conference playoffs, has suggested otherwise. If anything, they’ve suggested he wants to win too much.
During the offseason, while attending a mixed martial arts event in Florida, Ryan made an obscene gesture toward an overzealous Dolphins fan and was fined $50,000 by the team. Then there were the acquisitions of cornerback Antonio Cromartie and receiver Santonio Holmes, who, like Edwards a season earlier, arrived in New York with plenty of baggage.
And just last week, the league publicly slapped the Jets after a female TV reporter was subjected to catcalls from players in the locker room; owner Woody Johnson, meantime, agreed to foot the bill for a league-wide media training program.
“I think our football team has learned our lessons,” Ryan said, noting that he and his coaches and players “have to be held accountable to each other.”
Ryan is already well along the career arc his father traced. His players, too, love the spotlight he draws them into and all the freedom he throws around. But unless he gets serious about holding his players accountable, the party is going to end a lot sooner than anybody in New York expected.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.