By Steve Silverman
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He’s crude, he’s bombastic and he’s an egomaniac, but at least Rex Ryan has a real personality.
Few NFL coaches can say the same thing.
None of the other coaches in the NFL can match him and most of them are pure vanilla. They are simply afraid to open their mouths and rile the opposition or say anything that can be taken the wrong way by any of their players.
Part of the reason for the growth of the NFL was the strength of the personality of the league’s coaches. No head coach had a better reputation for excellence in his profession than Vince Lombardi. He was afraid of nothing and he was not hesitant to give his opinion on opponents, his own players or the state of the game.
In the years that followed, the game thrived with personalities of coaches like Hank Stram, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and Buddy Ryan.
All of these men said what they were thinking and all but Buddy Ryan won championships. Marv Levy never won a Super Bowl, but he took his Bills to four straight. He had an open and seemingly honest discourse with the press.
But for the most part, coaches today are all about subterfuge and hiding any hint of what could be perceived as a gameplan.
It seems like Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is the model that many coaches want to follow. Smith never registers his annoyance with his players or coaches in public. In most cases you would not know he even has a pulse from his interactions with the media.
That’s just the way he wants it. Smith’s players love him because he never sells them out in public.
But that philosophy causes problems. While the subject of emotion can be overblown in pro football, it is a necessary ingredient for winning consistently. The Bears have not always had it when they have faced big games, and perhaps Smith’s buttoned-down (and covered-up) personality has a lot to do with it.
That’s not the case with Ryan, who will always tell you what he thinks. Last week, he said he was going to take a more active role with the Jets’ defense this season. His reasoning: “I’m the best defensive coach in football.”
When a coach expresses his confidence like that, it resonates throughout the lockerroom. He puts it out there for everyone to see and his embarrassment will be palpable if he fails. He doesn’t care. He’s willing to take responsibility.
Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers is another coach who’s not afraid to put himself out there and stand up for his team. He’s also not afraid to irritate his own players and get in their faces. Harbaugh’s personality will bring out the best in his team when they are winning, but the irritation factor may be too much to overcome when and if the 49ers go on a winning streak.
Mike Tomlin of the Steelers is usually not going to call out opponents the way Ryan or Harbaugh will, but he will let his own players know when they are not performing up to his expectations. Tomlin is one of the best gameplanners in the league, but it’s his ability to motivate players that has made him a standout coach since taking over for Bill Cowher at the start of the 2007 season.
In the AFC West, John Fox of the Broncos and Romeo Crennel both have the framework of real personalities, but both are likely to climb back into the bunker when/if they have contending teams.
Andy Reid of the Eagles seems to say what he thinks most of the time. Reid, generally credited with being one of the two or three best offensive minds in the game, has had many off-the-field issues with family members and he realizes that there are a lot of things more important than winning football games. That’s probably why he doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind when he wants to
Tom Coughlin clearly has a personality as well. Throughout his run with the Jacksonville Jaguars and for the first half of his career with the Giants, he was always the angry man who couldn’t be satisfied. Age and success has given him more perspective.
Jim Schwartz has a personality in Detroit, but for the most part he tends to run hot and lose control any time his team faces adversity.
On the other hand, Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers seems to be one of the few coaches who can handle the demands of the job while actually liking what he does. There’s pressure on him, but he seems to enjoy himself as few coaches have before or since.
But aside from Ryan and the handful of coaches we have mentioned, the head coaching position in the NFL seems to be manned by individuals who are fearful of what would happen if they spoke their mind. It’s as if the majority of NFL coaches are CIA operatives, afraid of giving up trade secrets.
Those men have delusions of grandeur when it comes to their own importance.
They need to cut loose every once in a while and realize that their teams have to breathe and relax every once in a while if they are going to be successful.
It begins by demonstrating that they have a personality.
Do you think Rex Ryan’s personality is a plus for the Jets? Let us know in the comments below.