By Jason Keidel
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Rarely do coaches leave on their terms, or under some mutually agreeable circumstance.
Even coaches with Super Bowl rings, from Brian Billick to Jon Gruden to Mike Shanahan, lose their livelihood and often the hardihood to continue in the face of pressure, bad press and poor performance. Even Bill Belichick, the patriarch of the nouveaux NFL, was fired by the Cleveland Browns. Indeed, the NFL has justified its acrid acronym, “Not For Long.”
With Monday resembling the baptism scene from The Godfather — five coaches whacked by noon –the tentacles of “Black Monday” have spared someone we thought was assured a pink slip just a few months ago.
Rex Ryan will still be fired by the Jets. But not on Monday. And that’s a good thing.
Ryan seemed a changed man this year. With his considerable weight loss he seemed to lose equal emotional heft, the bombast that made him so delicious to the fans, press and pundits.
We longed for the way he filled a notepad or tape recorder or back page with his outsized sermons. The haughty and hefty Ryan gave way to a more understated, cerebral leader, eschewing the family blueprint of blinding hubris. We were sure he was surrendering.
Turns out he fooled us, as he had so many undermanned offenses unaware of one of his disguised blitzes. Turns out you don’t need to be large to live large. Ryan has many lives, and Woody Johnson just assured him one more.
No one seems to get this New York City celebrity thing more than Ryan. While a coach is ultimately judged by wins or lack thereof, Ryan seems to have a spiritual sense of his time and place, that New York City is a ravenous and cavernous place for the fragile. He knows that the Big Apple is a carnivorous culture. We smell weakness.
And in the absence of Super Bowl victories, Ryan realizes that this is entertainment. And no matter his strategic woes or lack of offensive acumen, he is a performer. No matter his failures, he never fails to charm us.
And any honest objective devotee will admit that the Jets were supposed to win four to six games in 2013. Instead, they finished 8-8.
You could literally feel the team tilt each week, the Monday momentum and public sentiment over Ryan sliding one way or another based on Sunday’s result. The glory of his first two years was morphing into the gory of recent results.
But despite a horrible 2012 and predictions of plunging even deeper this year, Ryan somehow summoned a .500 record — just one win short of a playoff berth — out of an offensively anorexic team that was weak on wide receiver, running back and tight end and had a rookie quarterback and a new offensive coordinator.
Despite their offensive lethargy, the Jets just keep drafting defensive players, ignoring the obvious chasm on the other side of the ball. But Ryan used his wit, optimistic bent and an uncanny ability to make his players feel that they are better than they actually are to milk more wins than any of us could have reasonably expected.
Still, this is an 8-8 campaign, one that Ryan astutely asserted is unacceptable, and he is keenly aware that he can only live on the faerie dust of overachievement for so long.
The “Sanchise” days have melted from memory, as have the two AFC title games of that epoch. So while Ryan has earned one more year to prove his wares, it should be with the understanding that he can’t joke or juke his way out of a another year sans a playoff appearance.
This is now three consecutive years without a chance to get the trophy that he guaranteed us. That’s three strikes, which usually gets a coach fired. But Ryan is an unusual man.
So welcome back, Rex. Not that you ever left.
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