Calling out a future Hall of Fame coach in Bill Belichick and a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady may not be the wisest strategy. And, truth be told, that arrogant, brash bravado Ryan has exhibited since becoming the Jets’ leader in 2009 only intensifies the scrutiny he faces when his team loses.
But Rex Ryan wouldn’t be Rex Ryan without a little controversy and beating of his chest. And the Jets, quite frankly, would be a mess without Ryan and all of the antics that come with him.
Regardless of how it’s perceived outside the Jets locker room, Ryan’s boldness and unrelenting confidence in his team has created a bought-in culture in New York. Ryan’s players, simply put, relish playing for him.
After the Jets closed out an otherwise disappointing 2013 season with a 20-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins, team owner Woody Johnson informed players that Ryan would be retained as head coach. The players erupted as if they had just won a division title or playoff game, elatedly cheering and embracing their coach, their leader.
Ryan believes in his players and, in turn, his players believe in him. As a result, the Jets, excluding a 6-10 mark in 2012, have been overachievers during Ryan’s five-year tenure.
In a “what have you done for me lately” league, many are quick to forget that Ryan led the Jets to back-to-back AFC title game appearances during his first two years on the job. His attacking defense and smash mouth running game shocked the world. Twice.
Yet, only three years later, Ryan was perceived to be the hot seat, and if the Jets struggle in 2014, his job security will undoubtedly be in jeopardy again.
Sure, the Jets have disappointed over the last three years when considering the expectations Ryan’s early success brought about. But let’s be realistic. The Jets haven’t been equipped with a playoff-caliber roster.
Although quality quarterback play is far from the only recipe for success, it’s still vital to any club’s prospects of competing for division titles, playoff spots and Super Bowls.
Considering the Jets have possessed one of the worst quarterback situations in football during Ryan’s stay, it’s quite remarkable they’ve fared 46-40, including four playoff wins, on his watch. In fact, the four playoff wins Ryan accrued in 2009 and 2010 were as many as the Jets managed from 1983 to his hiring five years ago.
But just how bad have the Jets’ quarterbacks been? In 2009, the season in which the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1998, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez ranked 23rd in passing yards and 28th in quarterback rating. No other starter on a playoff team finished anywhere near as low in either category.
In 2010, the season in which the Jets qualified for a second consecutive conference title game for the first time in franchise history, Sanchez improved, but not drastically. His 75.3 quarterback rating only surpassed Matt Hasselbeck‘s rating of 73.2 among starters on playoff teams. And Hasselbeck’s Seattle Seahawks were the first 7-9 playoff team in league history.
Overcoming that porous play at the game’s most important position was a true testament to how well Ryan coached those Jets. And not being able to overcome similarly lackluster quarterback play over the past three seasons shouldn’t be the indictment on his coaching prowess it’s been made out to be.
Jets starting passers finished 23rd in 2011 (Sanchez), 31st in 2012 (Sanchez) and 37th in 2013 (Geno Smith) in quarterback rating. Yet, Ryan, who has still managed to lead the Jets to two .500 campaigns during that span, is to blame?
The culture Ryan has created, in addition to his genius defensively, has gotten the most out of the Jets’ talent over the past five years. And for that, Ryan should be considered one of the league’s best coaches, not a coach entering another make-or-break season.
His borderline arrogance turns off many, but it works for him and his team. It will likely take Geno Smith emerging as a quality starter in 2014 for the nation to realize it, but Ryan isn’t the problem in New York and never has been. He’s an elite (yes, elite) head coach.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.