By Kristian Dyer
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Rex Ryan’s running with the bulls earlier this week might just keep him in the running with free agents ahead of the start of training camp in two weeks. It is the latest bit of salesmanship from a head coach who needs every advantage he can get.
NFL coaches have only a couple things they can sell to players when they try to recruit them to their teams, in particular the high-profile veteran players that can help a team as young as the Jets. Money of course is an issue as is the chance to win. But there’s one thing that the coach simply known as Rex knows he can sell in the NFL, and he is better at it than anyone else.
See, Rex knows that boys just want to have fun.
Through the narrow corridors and streets of Pamplona, Ryan’s run with the bulls – or more aptly away from the bulls – only underscores that this is a head coach and indeed a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously. It is one thing to stand at the podium day after day following practice and crack jokes and quips about himself, his team and opponents. It is another thing to go out there and live life the way Rex does. That is what Ryan did when he participated in the “Running of the Bulls.” It is why players love playing for him.
Talk to a veteran free agent – one that has been around and played for different teams and different coaches and to a man, they will cite the Jets head coach as a reason why they came to New York. It is easy to see why. Ryan is a player’s coach, someone who has fun on the field and loves to mix it up with smiles with his players. Yes, there is a side to him that competitively burns to win. There is also a side that allows him to embrace the moment and enjoy what is still a game.
Football is a business, a very serious one for the 53 players who will be on the Jets roster come Week 1. For many, it is a positive that they can have fun doing their job.
To be brutally honest, the Jets don’t have much to sell right now other than the free-spirit affability of Ryan and a bend towards life that put his girth in the way of two tons of charging mammal and their horns this past Sunday. Unlike his nemesis to the north in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he doesn’t have Super Bowl rings to sell, a winning tradition that promises more wins down the road. The Jets, as any fan would know, are a historically bad franchise where losses are frequent and seasons routinely end with those in the stands wearing bags over their heads.
The Jets aren’t known for winning, but under Ryan they’ve done just enough of that to make themselves relevant. And under Ryan, they smile a lot more too.
His predecessor, Eric Mangini, bristled in his interactions with the media and his team took on a similar tone. Practices seemed stiff and players were afraid to make mistakes. Ryan deplores mistakes as well but there is just something about his style – a style critics will say is “loosey-goosey” – that is attractive to players and veterans in particular. He is likable and he loves his team to a fault. He’s just one of the guys out there who loves football.
The kind of veterans that the Jets might be looking at to turn them from a reclamation project into something a bit more competitive this year will look at Ryan and his most recent escapade as something they too will want to embrace.
That’s where Ryan and his willingness to run with the bulls becomes a tremendous selling point for the Jets. It gives him a couple big balls to kick around as a man who stared death in the face in Spain and stopped to pose for pictures afterwards. A man who embraces life to the point of risking it, a man who like the very athletes he coaches seeks thrills and anything but the ordinary.
A man who, unlike the stodgy Belichick, is willing to just be himself and enjoy the moment.
Even as he raced away from the bulls of Pamplona, Ryan knew that his very actions will resonate with players around the league. After all, there are 31 other coaches in the league unlikely to try to equal this bit of Rex’s bravado.
It was a bullish move for his future.
Kristian R. Dyer covers college football for Metro New York and also contributes to Yahoo! Sports. He can be followed for news and insight on Twitter @KristianRDyer.
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