Rex Ryan's Jets save NFL playoffs from tedium

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By John Feinstein
Monday, January 18, 2010

If these past two weekends were the best the NFL has to offer, maybe there's a chance for the USFL to make a comeback.

Six of the eight games were enough to make one think about switching to Dick Vitale calling a women's basketball game. Or Dick Vitale talking about calling a women's basketball game.

Wild-card weekend gave us Packers-Cardinals and three games that even fans of the winners would be hard-pressed to watch to the end. The Ravens-Patriots game was over before Bill Belichick had a chance to get his hoodie into position.

Surely the divisional playoff weekend would be better. Except it wasn't: It was worse. The winning teams were ahead by a combined 35 points at halftime Saturday and never looked back, and the only real suspense in the over-hyped Cowboys-Vikings matchup was when the "Can Wade Phillips survive?" talk would begin.

Enter the New York Jets and Rex Ryan to save the day, the weekend and the first two weeks of the postseason.

Everyone knows the one and only great moment in Jets franchise history took place 41 years ago, when Joe Namath correctly predicted that his underdog team from the allegedly inferior American Football League would beat the lordly Baltimore Colts. Since then, the Jets have made an art form of losing much the same way the Cubs have done in baseball. It isn't that the Jets haven't returned to a Super Bowl; it's the many ways they've found to avoid getting back there, including (among other crimes) firing Pete Carroll in order to hire the immortal Rich Kotite.

Enter Ryan.

One would think if anyone would fit the mold of a football coach it would be Ryan. After all he's the son of Buddy Ryan, the defensive genius who built the Bears "46" defense in 1985 and went on to a good deal of success as head coach in Philadelphia and not so much success in Arizona. Rex and his twin brother Rob were raised, for all intents and purposes, to play and coach football.

And, while it's completely true that Rex inherited a lot of his father's instincts for coaching defense, he could not be more different personally. Buddy Ryan's photo appears in the dictionary under the definition of "gruff coach." We're talking about a guy who once slugged his offensive coordinator on the sideline during a game.

Rex Ryan would sooner hug you than slug you. He's a massive bear of a man, a guy who as defensive line coach for the Ravens used to allow his players to weigh him in each day during training camp as part of a running gag/contest meant to remind the players that if he could get down to just north of 300 pounds they ought to be able to get their weight down too.

When the Ravens decided to hire John Harbaugh instead of Ryan two years ago, Ryan never blinked. He could have gone a lot of places, but he felt he owed it to his players to stay if Harbaugh wanted him to stay. Harbaugh's a bright guy. His first move was to ask Ryan to stay.

A year ago when Eric Mangini was fired after three seasons of putting the media to sleep, Ryan jumped at the chance to move up. He knew he was ready because he had spent his entire life preparing to be a head coach. He had learned a lot from his father -- what to do and what not to do -- and he couldn't wait to test himself at the highest level of the sport.


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