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Rex Ryan: A Rextrospective

Rex Ryan's first press conference.
Rex Ryan's first press conference.
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

It's the end of an era. Rex Ryan has been fired after six years as head coach of the New York Jets. In that time, he compiled two AFC Championship appearances and a 50-52 record, including playoffs. That puts him third all-time in franchise wins, behind Weeb Ewbank and Joe Walton. He holds the franchise record for most playoff victories.

Let's recap his tenure with the team:

Ryan came into New York and quickly made both fans and enemies alike with his brash attitude, a striking contrast from his predecessor, Eric Mangini. In his opening press conference, he stated, "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's, you know, rings," Ryan said. "I came to win. Let's just put it that way. So we'll see what happens. I'm certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."

Matching Ryan's persona, the team made a bold move and traded up in the 2009 NFL Draft to take Mark Sanchez, the quarterback from the University of Southern California. Soon after, the team would take the league by storm. Ryan's defense led the way, as the team did not allow an offensive touchdown in the first two weeks to either the Houston Texans or the New England Patriots. The victory of the Patriots, in particular, was striking, as it was the first home victory over their rivals since 2000.

After an up-and-down season, the team snuck into the playoffs as the Indianapolis Colts sat their starters. Although nobody expected much of the team in the playoffs, Ryan was confident and distributed a schedule to the players, which ended with a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City. After stunning victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, the Jets lost in a rematch against the Colts in the AFC Championship when the defense faltered and a key offensive player, Shonn Greene, was injured.

The next year, expectations were higher. The team appeared on HBO's Hard Knocks, and with incredible last minute wins against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Texans, the Jets ended the season 11-5. With shutdown defensive play, the Jets managed to beat both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks, and went into another AFC Championship, this time against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the team came out flat and despite a valiant effort in the second half, came up short yet again.

The 2011 season was one many expected the team to finally break through. Yet, consecutive losses to the Patriots and Denver Broncos seemed to break the spirit of the team, putting them at 5-5 on the season. They would lose their last three games, ending any chance at the playoffs. When WR Santonio Holmes was thrown out of his own huddle by RT Wayne Hunter in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins, that was, essentially, the beginning of the end.

In 2012, the team went 6-10. When Sanchez threw three picks against the Arizona Cardinals before being benched for Greg McElroy, most lost all remaining hope in the once franchise quarterback. The next year, 2013, brought a new general manager and a new quarterback. When Sanchez was injured in the preseason, Geno Smith took over. After a roller coaster ride to 8-8, expectations were playoffs or bust this year after three years of missing the playoffs.

After a lackluster offseason, the Jets lost all hope with eight straight losses, ending up with a 4-12 season, the worst since 1996. The year quickly became yet another lost season, and now the man in charge for the past six years has been fired. In the end, the team got progressively worse throughout the years, and whether or not you think the ultimate blame falls on Rex, it's time for him to go. The offense never developed, and constant personnel and game management mistakes plagued the Jets.

Those are the facts. But that doesn't show how we felt along the way.

Here is what sp0rtsfan86 has to say:

In 2009 the Jets had no identity. The Brett Favre experiment capped off 4 years in which Herm Edwards abandoned Gang Green to go to KC, Eric Mangini kept players silent and drafted Gholston. In came a new voice and a loud one. Rex immediately forged an identity on offense, defense and also off the field. His style was a throwback and against the grain of the current NFL, but I loved it. Looking back at 2009 and 2010, you forget what magical seasons those really were.

While Rex was piling up victories, it felt great to say I’m a Jet fan. After 4 years of never making it past the wildcard, the Jets had two of the best playoff runs in history. In 2010, it came down to a 4th down completion and now it’s come down to a pink slip.

The sweet smells of success in 2009-2010 were replaced by the odors of the last few years. Rex survived his GM getting the axe, but continued to make the same mistakes. What we saw as brave, bold and unbelievable in the first two seasons turned into dumb, stubborn and unwatchable by this year. Rex was stubborn and I think that’s what ultimately lead to his demise. He loved his guys, and refused to give up on them when the rest of the world knew they were done. (See Ed Reed, B Schotty). His defense collapsed under the tremendous weight of the offense he never fully understood nor could figure out. His drafts through two GM’s were borderline awful. But yet, I still like him.

He never once threw anyone under the bus. You never heard him go after a player… (Chicago OC, Jay Gruden). In one of the biggest Rex legacy moments, he put the entire Jets Pats games on his shoulders and refused to let the players take any blame if they lost. Sure he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with his brash ways, but the one thing I respect most is Rex never tossed blame around when his methods failed.

David Vill:

I really don't know what to make of Rex Ryan. With a good staff and good players, he was able to lead the team to successful seasons. Players love him because he believes in them.

Jim Leonhard took less money to play for him with the Jets. Yet, he couldn't get Kerry Rhodes to fully buy in to the system. He talked up Darrelle Revis, and he became the epitome of a shutdown corner. Still, he could never get Antonio Cromartie to play with consistency, and I'm not sure if Kyle Wilson will ever live up to his first round selection.

He took a chance with LaDainian Tomlinson, and LT revitalized his career with the New York Jets. He took a gamble with another star running back, but for all the faith he put in him, Chris Johnson could not produce the same success.

He praised Danny Woodhead for emulating Wes Welker in practice. He converted Woodhead to receiver. Then back to running back. Yet, after Leon Washington went down with an injury, with an aging Thomas Jones breaking down at the end of the season, with Shonn Greene not knowing how to avoid contact, and with one of the best offensive lines in the league, they never saw much production from Woodhead.

Rex saw talent in Anthony Lynn and Henry Ellard, but I was surprised that he kept Brian Schottenheimer as OC because the Jets offense was less than impressive against Rex's Baltimore Ravens defense the last time they played in 2006. Likewise, I found it hard to believe that he actually thought Kellen Clemens could be his starting quarterback after the way the Ravens defense handled him.

But John Harbaugh gave Rex autonomy over the Ravens defense, and so he gave Schottenheimer power over the offense. But for all of Schotty's imperfections, I don't think the color-coded plays, practice buzzers and sliding instructions were solely the offensive coordinator's ideas. Remember, Rex hired Matt Cavanaugh to be the quarterbacks coach after winning the Super Bowl together with the Baltimore Ravens.

Rex is loyal to a fault. We all know about Jeff Weeks. We know he hired another longtime friend in Kerry Locklin and immediately realized the mistake and fired him. We know he hired another longtime friend, DB Coach Mike Carrier, to be the DL Coach. We saw him bring in his old players past their prime like Ed Reed and Derrick Mason taking snaps away from younger, more deserving guys.

As an NFL head coach, Rex thought his team was eliminated from the playoffs with two games left to go. But he also led them to back-to-back championship games without home field advantage. He beat the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in consecutive games because he made the game personal. Then suddenly, he switched gears and was full of deference against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They lost and haven't been to the playoffs again.

I don't know what to make of Rex Ryan. He can be too stubborn and stick with his beliefs. He can't seem to tell the difference between the possible and the plausible. In Freudian terms, I think having the id of Weeks and the super-ego of Mike Pettine is good for him. Rex so desperately needs to be loved, but he also thrives from conflict. In the end, what contributed to his downfall with the Jets is that reportedly, he never disagreed with John Idzik.

With a good group of players and personnel, I would not be surprised if he goes on to win a Super Bowl as the head coach of another team. I would be less inclined to believe that it can happen with him and the Jets soon.

David Wyatt:

I'm a little sad to see Rex Ryan fired. Not because I think we're losing a great head coach and not because I wanted him to stay, in fact I've been calling for him to be fired for some time. I'm sad because for two years Rex Ryan made the Jets relevant. He created a defence that teams feared and took us as close to a Championship as we've been for some time. He came in with a brash and confident attitude, a persona that perfectly defined the city he'd be coaching in. For two years players wanted to play here and teams feared having to come here. We picked up memorable road playoff victories in San Diego and New England, it looked as though we were on the verge. However the team grew old, the league evolved and we were left in the dark ages. Ryan had less talent to work with and never improved the way you'd want. Somewhere along the line, he lost his confidence, he lost his swagger and he gave the impression he knew his time was up. He survived last year but that seemed to just delay the inevitable, when he was presented with this team, it was always a long shot he's survive the year. You can't win with no talent.

Rex will leave as one of my absolute favourite coaches in New York history, and as long as he's not with a rival, I'll want to see him have all the success in the world. Right now, well I guess it's just about the right time to say goodbye!

Rich MacLeod:

I find myself to be very sentimental and somber right now. I understand what the Jets did and why they did it, but for me that doesn't make things any easier. Rex Ryan changed the perception of this franchise upon his arrival. While the last few years haven't gone as well and the term "circus" has been thrown around ad nauseam, Rex helped put this team on the map. Following the 2008 collapse and Eric Mangini's firing, Rex was given the keys a car that needed work. Three years removed from the postseason and with a rookie quarterback and a rookie coach, no one expected the Jets to accomplish much.

Rex didn't care. From the get-go he talked Super Bowl. He refused to "kiss Bill Belichick's rings." He wanted a god damn snack. He was a breath of fresh air for this fan base, and he backed up his boisterous talk with success. Two AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two seasons, and a 4-2 postseason record—all of which came on the road.

And damn, can that man coach a defense, or what?

This isn't an excuse or a pardoning for the bad turn the team took in the latter half of his tenure, but instead a remembrance and appreciation of everything that Rex Ryan did for this franchise in six years. For me, he started out as a complete unknown, and wound up being the best and my personal favorite coach for all of the professional sports teams that I've followed throughout my life.

It's been a pleasure being able to write about and cover Rex Ryan on GGN since I began here now two years ago, and I, for one, will sorely miss him.

Good luck, Rex, and thank you for everything.

John B.:

For me talking about Rex Ryan is personal.

Back during the 2009 coaching search GGN was in its infancy. Aside from the unlikely possibility Bill Cowher would be interested in coming to the Jets, Rex Ryan was my guy. The top two choices seemed to be Rex and Steve Spagnuolo. A lot of people favored Spags because he was the known New York guy, but I wanted Rex badly.

Rex was our chance to finally have a coach who could match X's and O's with Belichick. He was innovative. He adapted his system to the players he had. He was everything Eric Mangini wasn't. On top of this, everybody who knew him couldn't stop talking about what a great human being he was.

When the Jets hired Rex, I thought we found our guy. I could have done without all of the big talk, but I didn't care. You know what? Maybe the Jets needed somebody to talk like that. There was a sense of inferiority in this organization. Now even if our coach talked trash, we finally had somebody who wasn't going to accept being a second class citizen to the Giants and the Patriots.

After those first two years, I thought we had a star. He dragged the Jets agonizingly close to where we dreamed they would always be. Yes, he made guarantees. No, he didn't deliver on them. Who cares? No season that ends a game short of the Super Bowl can be called a total failure.

People look back to the Championship Game in Pittsburgh as the true turning point during his tenure. I don't. I remember a Sunday night in November 2011. The Jets and Patriots faced off in the Meadowlands with first place on the line. After a rough start, the team had gotten back on track and were going to contend again. The Jets had won three in a row. The Pats were reeling. They had lost two in a row. Everything was set up for a passing of the torch. The Jets lost in a blowout. Four days later they were Tebowed. Never again did I feel under Rex Ryan like the Jets were a threat to win it all.

Even after the bitter way 2011 ended, I was sure Rex was going to turn things around. He had guided this team through difficult times before. He had shown an ability to honest assess himself, adjust, and learn from what he had done wrong. Surely the Jets would act assertively. They would quickly let go of Brian Schottenheimer. Then they would aggressively find a coach whose wizardry on the offensive side of the ball would match Rex's on the defensive side. Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy had both won championships by finding somebody to whom they could delegate their weaker sides of the ball. So would Rex. And this guy would develop Mark Sanchez into our franchise guy.

What we got was the gym rats press conference, a few more days of Schottenheimer, and what seemed like a slapdash process to find a replacement. Tony Sparano seemed like a bad hire. The Miami Dolphins offenses he oversaw never scared anybody.

It was an omen for an offseason full of puzzling choices from extending Mark Sanchez to trading for Tim Tebow. The season that followed was a disaster, and never again did it feel like Rex was capable of helping the Jets reach those heights. Even during a surprising 8 win season in 2013, Rex's flaws were on full display. They never improved. It made me wonder whether he can succeed as a head coach or whether he's really just a coordinator. I could see him going to a spot like Atlanta and having a ton of success with an offense built to succeed. At one point they said Tony Dungy could never build an offense. Then he went to a place where one was already built, and he succeeded. Then again, Rex hasn't been as successful as Tony Dungy, and no matter how good of a quarterback he inherits, he won't be getting Peyton Manning.

What is Rex's final legacy? Let me say this. Around a year ago, a few Giants fans on SB Nation claimed to me that the Jets never owned the New York sports scene. Those guys are wrong. Back in late July 2011, the Yankees were contending. We were right near the trade deadline. Nobody was talking about them. All anybody could talk about was whether the Jets were going to sign Nnadmi Asomugha. It was a fleeting moment, but I have never seen the Jets dominate the conversation the way they did when Rex had them winning. I just wish it had lasted longer.

We got so close, and yet, ended up so very far away. Thanks for the memories, Rex. In the end, I'll leave you with this: