The history of pro sports — not just football, but baseball, hockey and basketball, too — is filled with examples of each. And, not surprisingly, it is filled with instances of teams flip-flopping from “players’ coaches” to “disciplinarians” and back again after each predictably wears out his welcome and the team decides that the opposite approach is needed. (How many times did the Yankees bring back Billy Martin to be the “disciplinarian” that the team presumably needed? Five? Ten?)
The current situation with the Jets and their head coach, Rex Ryan, only serves to remind us that everything old is new again, as the saying goes. Rex Ryan might as well have come to town wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Players’ Coach” emblazoned on front and back.
Loud, brash, foul-mouthed, Ryan may be the most stereotypical “players’ coach” since his own father Buddy, and the best example of the positives and negatives of that coaching style other than his own brother, Rob. Rex Ryan did not merely predict that the Jets would be successful when he arrived in New York. No, he has repeatedly guaranteed Super Bowl victories. In case you haven’t noticed, not only have the Jets not reached the Super Bowl, but they didn’t even reach the playoffs this year, falling apart down the stretch when they controlled their own playoff chances. Now, with seemingly daily press conferences and anonymous complaints, they appear to be imploding.
The Jets have had more than their share of controversy during the Ryan regime, much of it brought on by Ryan or made worse by his handling of it. Strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi tripped a Dolphins player near the sidelines during a game, only to have Ryan claim that he was unaware of the practices Alosi had implemented. Ryan’s purported unawareness of what was going on with his own team came up again more recently when he contended he was unaware that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenhemier had pulled Santonio Holmes off the field during a critical drive in the last game of the season.
Here’s what history tells us:
The fun-loving players’ coach, like Ryan, loves to talk about how he treats his players like men and doesn’t monitor their every activity. He boasts about how great his players are in the press and makes bold predictions about how successful they will be. He takes the blame for losses, but praises his players when they win. He wants to be liked by his players and often is. At least as first.
At first, the team responds well to him. They enjoy the public and private adulation, and they enjoy the freedom he gives them. Perhaps they make the playoffs. But, little by little, some players take advantage of his approach, and other players begin to resent those players who slack off, bemoaning the lack of discipline that had helped them make the pros in the first place. Then, feeling pressure, he no longer accepts all of the blame for the team’s performance. That’s when you hear the whispers that the coach, presumed to be loved by his players, in fact has lost control of the locker room. And that’s when the team starts looking to replace the players’ coach with the disciplinarian.
What’s happening now with Ryan and the Jets is right out of the playbook for the careers of “players’ coaches.” His style has stopped working, and players are now speaking out about it. They are upset that he gave Santonio Holmes a captain title that he didn’t deserve. They are upset that there is little discipline. They are upset that he has overly praised Mark Sanchez, perhaps to his detriment. They are upset that the Jets’ game plan often made no sense. You can’t call your offense “Ground and Pound” when you throw the ball 59 times in a game. And you shouldn’t be throwing the ball 59 times in a game when Sanchez is your quarterback.
But the problem is that Ryan has already lost this team. He can’t fix this mess without overhauling the roster or changing his coaching style — and he can’t change his coaching style with a locker room that he’s already lost. Barring significant roster changes, the current squad will perform no better for Ryan next year than this year — and perhaps much worse. Then the Jets will look to replace Ryan with a “disciplinarian,” because that’s what teams do after “players’ coaches” wear out their welcomes.
If the Giants don’t make a deep playoff run this season or next, don’t be surprised if they look to invigorate the team at the same time by replacing disciplinarian Tom Coughlin with a “players’ coach.” Hmm. One team at MetLife looking for a “disciplinarian” and the other looking for a “players’ coach”? Maybe Ryan and Coughlin could just swap offices and wardrobes and save everyone a lot of trouble.
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