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Keidel: Rex Ryan’s Breath Of Fresh Air Has Turned Rancid

Rex Ryan (credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Rex Ryan (credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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By Jason Keidel
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Mike Francesa, like many of the old sporting salt, has taken an odd stance over “TattooGate.” Normally ardent Jets detractors have suddenly come to the haughty coach’s defense.

Isn’t defense supposed to be Ryan’s forte?

It was Ryan who burst through the NFL’s cold, corporate coda like a Trojan horse, refusing to kiss Belichick’s ring, and declaring dominance before his first game. It was Ryan who said he’d have won several Super Bowls with Norv Turner’s team. It was Ryan who said his Jets were clearly better than the Giants, right before Victor Cruz juked and jaunted through his vaunted secondary on his way to a championship. It was Ryan who said the 2012 Jets were his most gifted group yet.

And now that it has become tough, more rugged than he ever planned in Florham Park, he’s suddenly and startlingly mute behind some opaque (if not fictional) gag order. You can’t run a loud ship and then jump as soon as you hit the symbolic iceberg.

“His personal life has nothing to do with it,” you say. “Leave his ink out of it!”

Superficially, you may be right. But we know the new world of rampant voyeurism doesn’t allow for part-time celebrity. If you don’t feel sorry for Brad, Angelina, George, and all the high-cheekbone beauties in Hollywood, why make an exception for someone who clearly sees himself sworn into the clique? Ryan does movies, flexes a middle finger at fans, and has all the bona fides of someone who sees himself as more than a mere football coach.

So it’s hard to drip tears for someone who has tried so hard to be a star. You can’t do your best to be on he back page and then whine when you appear on the front.

And then there’s the whole chucking Mike Tannenbaum under the bus, and not even acknowledging his fallen friend when he’s canned. They may have made a most odd couple (a nod to the recently departed Jack Klugman) but a couple they were, always in corporate lockstep until the day Mr. T was dismissed. It seems loyalty and friendship are most ephemeral in Rex’s world.

Rex Ryan, like most humans, does things without considering consequences. But most of us learn the perils of our conduct before we become adults. There’s a childlike quality to Rex, a preteen stubbornness that is no longer charming or disarming, but rather alarming. When Ryan landed on the Meadlowlands like an asteroid, he was brave, biting, and brutally candid. When compared to the frigid apathy of his predecessor, Eric Mangini, Ryan was hailed as a breath of fresh air. Now it just smells like bad breath, like the rancid, industrial smog up the Turnpike, from Elizabeth to East Rutherford.

Ideally, ripping Rex would be limited to his coaching prowess, just as we should talk about Brad Pitt only when he plays Billy Beane or Sylvester Stallone when he’s working on his nth iteration of Rocky Balboa. But we know the world doesn’t spin that way. So why make an exception for Rex?

Frankly, alleged foot fetish videos and distasteful tattoos with his wife swathed in a Sanchise jersey are pretty boring. And the Daily News seems to be on a monolithic mission to embarrass the man. But Rex Ryan did that to himself long before anyone else got the idea.

The humbled, if not humiliated, men who run the Jets are scheduled to hold a press conference today. Do you expect anything to come of it? For a team that prides itself on earnest, honest dealings with the media and each other, the Jets have been oddly timid. Every head coach in the NFL spoke to the media the day after the regular season ended — even the fired ones! — except Rex.

Ryan and his Jets are classic front-runners — bold and beautiful when the wind is at their broad backs — but shivering and shriveling when a little adversity taps at their front door. And now Rex is, in every physical and metaphysical sense, paying a titanic tax. The world is shrinking around him. His wingman was fired, and there’s no assurance the new GM will agree on schemes, personnel, or even whom the head coach should be. So suffice it to say that 2013 is a referendum on Rex Ryan’s friends and his future.

A year from now, he may not have either.

Feel free to email me at keidel.jason@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @JasonKeidel.

Are you tired of Rex’s act? Sound off in the comments below!