By Kristian Dyer
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Over the past two seasons, Jets fans could rejoice in the brutal honesty and refreshing passion of head coach Rex Ryan, a man who could never be accused of biting his tongue.
Ryan was brash, making bold predictions and talking about wanting to take the Jets to the Super Bowl. His team came close during his first two years with the Jets, twice making the AFC Championship Game but falling short. Although he was writing checks with his mouth that his team couldn’t cash, there was the sense that Ryan had this team believing that they were Super Bowl contenders.
Now after an 8-8 season and no playoffs for the first time in his tenure with the Jets, Ryan’s words and promises ring hollow.
The biggest part of the 2012 offseason for Ryan may not be rebuilding his team or piecing together a good NFL Draft – it might be in rebuilding the credibility gap over his statements.
It is easy to dismiss Ryan as a blowhard – which is partially true – but he knows and acknowledges that his statements aren’t directed towards the fans or the media but towards the 53 players in the locker room that he works with every day. Last season before the divisional playoff game in New England, Ryan billed the game as not between the Jets and the Patriots but between himself and New England head coach Bill Belichick; in doing so he was taking the pressure off his team in light of their regular season meltdown in New England just weeks earlier.
It was a shrewd and calculated move by the master manipulator of the media as he successfully took the attention and scrutiny off of his Jets, freeing them to play. Ryan became the focal point and the villain for the next week and his team responded with an upset win over the Patriots.
Everything by Ryan is by design, a perpetual message to his team that he believes in them. It’s the reason why he’s a players’ coach and why talent like Plaxico Burress, Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson have flocked to the Jets the past two season.
But now, Ryan is lacking the ability to follow through on his bold talk and all the bravado. His 8-8 team shows humbling flaws in what he proclaimed in preseason to be the best assembly of talent he’s had since coming to the Jets. In light of his gross overestimation of his team, Ryan’s other verbal flaws are now exposed.
There was the ugly lead up to the Giants game in Week 16, which made him look like an amateur in using headlines and tabloid backpages to pick fights with the “big brother” Giants organization. As bad as the loss to the Giants was that Christmas Eve, the Jets lost more than a game as Ryan stood at the podium afterward, at a loss and forced to stand in the lights of a very public humiliation. They lost that day the image of a coach whose team backed up his words.
He no longer looks like the fun-loving, heart-on-his-sleeve wearing Ryan that was embraced by the Jets and the NFL the last two seasons. Now the perception is of an unhinged head coach who told the San Diego media in a conference call that he would have won a Super Bowl already if he had the talent available to him on the Chargers, a slap in the face to not only Norv Turner but also his own Jets team. And there’s the Ryan who, at halftime of the loss to the Patriots in November, looked up into the stands as he walked off the field and cursed at a heckling fan.
The sound bites and images of Ryan these days aren’t flattering.
This isn’t the Ryan who defended his team last year when they went through a rocky midseason stretch or buried the game ball from the Patriots loss. It isn’t even the head coach who in his first season with the Jets cried in front of his team when he thought they were out of the playoffs. The genuine nature and passion of the affable Ryan doesn’t ring with the same bravado as it did the past two seasons.
It is something that could well hurt the Jets this offseason. Free agents were attracted to Ryan as the ultimate players’ coach who loved his team unconditionally and unbending; where every action and every utterance was legitimate and from the heart. He was a walking billboard that the Jets could put up for any and all free agents to come and want to play for a coach who believed in them.
Now, Ryan the loose cannon must rebuild his reputation as something more than just hot air and find that right mix of arrogance and teddy bear that made him hated around the league and loved in his own locker room.
It might be the biggest offseason challenge the Jets face.
Kristian R. Dyer contributes to WFAN.com and covers the Jets beat for Metro New York. He also writes for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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