Rex Ryan came onto the scene in New York like a new sheriff ready to clean up someone else’s mess. And early on he did exactly that. He put the fun back in football for New York Jets fans, bringing laughter, cheer and wins.
Wigs, snacks, a foul mouth, bird flipping and foot fetishes aside Ryan brought bravado and hope to Gang Green.
Now hope borders on despair.
Looking back on his days with the Baltimore Ravens as the beloved defensive coordinator serving under Brian Billick and later John Harbaugh, Ryan had a knack for getting the most out of his players and placing them in position to be successful.
Many of the Ravens’ defenders wanted Rex to succeed Billick has the head coach. A team known for its defense, carried for years by Ray Lewis & Co. seemed like the most logical launching pad for Ryan’s head coaching career. Ed Reed and Bart Scott pleaded Rex’ case.
Rex thought he was in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively. During the interviewing process Ryan pulled his truck into Billick’s then recently abandoned parking spot marked, “Head Coach.”
Ryan can never be accused of lacking brass stones.
But the hefty coordinator never had a chance in Baltimore. The Ravens front office understood why Rex was rejected previously by the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons. They were familiar with his immaturity and understood that naming Ryan their head coach came with risks – big risks.
Some coaches are better off being colonels not generals.
And the Ravens took a pass.
Winning however has a way of masking the aforementioned embarrassments for the Jets owner Woody Johnson. Losing exacerbates them.
So does a bad locker room.
Rex sees himself as somewhat of a Malcontent Whisperer. He threw out the welcome mat to Antonio Cromartie, Kris Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Plaxico Burress – hardly choirboys.
For awhile it worked. But then results fell short of expectations and the fingers started pointing like six-shooters in the Wild, Wild West. And as it so often happens in the NFL when things go wrong the blame often falls upon the shoulders of the quarterback.
Unfortunately for Rex and the Jets, Mark Sanchez’ shoulders aren’t all that big and stout. Towards the end of the 2011 season the weight began to force Sanchez to bend a bit from the hips. And now Ryan with the addition of Tim Tebow, on the heels of giving Sanchez a contract extension no less, is pushing down on the back of Sanchez’ head.
“I don’t see Tim [Tebow] just holding a clipboard. He’s going to be playing for us. There is no doubt,” Ryan said at the league meetings. “He will have a role. We know that. There won’t be a better Wildcat quarterback in the game. Is that his only role? I don’t believe that – we’ll see what happens.”
“We have a No. 1 quarterback. Mark is our No. 1 quarterback. Tim Tebow is our No. 2 quarterback, but he’s also going to do other things for this football team,” Ryan added. “He’s a football player. That’s what I keep wanting to put out there. Let’s not just look at him as a quarterback. I look at him as a football player.”
But that football player is a quarterback and when your No. 1 quarterback is 2009’s fifth overall draft pick with a bruised and battered ego, something has got to give.
Ryan is a riverboat gambler – that’s an understatement of the obvious. But this roll of the heavenly dice with Tebow might not have the rallying effect (in a locker room sorely in need of one) that Ryan thinks. More likely it will divide Gang Green more rapidly than Moses split the Red Sea.
And if that happens, look for Woody Johnson to shoot the sheriff.