Jets' Former Head Coach Was Everything You Want, But His Stubbornness Was Brutal


By Jason Keidel
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In the end it wasn’t what normally kills a coach.

It wasn’t the garden variety, New York hurdles that loom like mountains to the fledgling coach. It wasn’t the skyline. It wasn’t cold wind howling off the Hudson or Hackensack rivers. It wasn’t the white hot lights of Broadway.

Nor was he swallowed up by the vortex of American media.

Rex Ryan was felled by his own hubris. His best characteristics — his confidence, unwillingness to change, and monolithic ear to his own voice and only tuning fork — are what made him overtly unadaptable to progress.

In retrospect, Ryan’s nightmare and ultimate precursor to this day was his instant success. He won largely with players picked by a prior regime and then thought he was both the shopper and chef, general manager, coach, and cognoscenti. He morphed from confident to arrogant, imbued with a supreme sense of invincibility.

And when Woody Johnson chose Ryan over Mike Tannenbaum it reinforced his own, warped coda. He was sure he was untouchable.

It pains me to credit another entity with an original thought, but I once heard Colin Cowherd  bluntly ask us to name one offensive player Ryan has developed. And I could not consider just one.

And if you give an honest and earnest reflection to Ryan’s tenure you’ll see that every quarterback, every offensive skill player either plateaued, stagnated, or regressed while under Rex’s thick thumb. He gave so much to one side of the ball, he ignored the more important side, particularly with the new, elastic rules relegating defenses a distant cousin to the more fan friendly and pyrotechnic appeal of passing the football.

There’s no proper postmortem for John Idzik, Ryan’s new twin under the Black Monday guillotine, who never should have been here and who clearly couldn’t bask in our city’s glow without burning in its glare. Idzik’s midseason mea culpa was so clumsy it felt more like a painful open mike at some off-brand comedy club.

No, this eulogy is preserved and reserved for Ryan, because there was so much to love about him, his contours so quintessentially New York City. He has the physical and metaphysical heft to own the five boroughs and beyond.

He was a conveyor belt of quotes, an emotional hemophiliac, unable to keep his sunny, stark or dark feelings from a microphone. He was chubby and chortled and loved his team and town so much he had his players literally tattooed to his epic frame.

He’s even a direct descendant of the last and lone Jets NFL championship, the son of Buddy Ryan, who was on the coaching staff during the bejeweled Joe Namath run in 1969. He was, forgive the cliche, one of the guys. And despite the money and marble of Madison Avenue, our humble hamlet was built on the blood and backs of blue-collar stiffs.

But it turns out that Ryan’s DNA was equal parts talent and torment. Like his father before him, Ryan was born and raised with an acute football myopia. Stuck in the grainy days of running and stopping the run, Ryan never adjusted his old-world ethos to meet or match the new wave of football. And that acute handicap trumped his myriad gifts.

Today is not a reason to cheer, particularly when we lose someone who gave so many reasons to smile.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel

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