Ask Coach Ryan

A brash, rotund coach struts into a success-starved NFL town, heralding better days. He slaps down before the owner a resume that features an unassailable record of coordinating staunch defenses. His former players, amongst the League’s top defenders, sing his praises. What’s more, his personality immediately captivates the media, launching the club back into relevancy on the back pages, if not the sports pages.

Turns out he isn’t all talk. His defense morphs into a fearsome, swirling sea of green overnight, above all shutting down opposing passers. Fans and media alike fall for his talented young quarterback. The team contends for the playoffs. Coach Ryan’s team stands at the precipice of greatness.

The coach’s act wears thin on management, though. Three years into the regime, the successes don’t seem to justify the hard-edged, sometimes ugly image that the coach cultivates, both personally and, by extension, in his football team.  The coach is gone as quickly as he arrived.

Buddyball fizzled in Philly, and 20 years on, it doesn’t look much better for in New York.

(Note: This is the second coach from another football era I’ve compared to Rex recently.  I do realize that Rex can’t be like every ex-coach. But the comparisons serve a purpose: the comparison with Madden shows that times have changed; Buddy shows that, where the circumstances around the coach are similar enough, the same act that failed isn’t bound to work on the second try.)

You would think that NFL commentators would see the Jets’ lackluster 2011 performance, the vicious brawls, and the sizzling quarterback controversy, and wonder whether Rex is long for his job. I certainly have. How a team faced with such divisive obstacles could play as an effective, 53-man unit is a mystery to me.

Adam Schein disagrees.  In fact, according to Schein, the Jets are playoff bound – at a minimum.

Predictions are a good thing. They force people to take a concrete stand. And there’s really no downside: at worst, a prediction tantalizes a few fans for a bit before reality sets in and, discouraged, the fans turn towards the television showing the better team (that a much more sage prognosticator predicted would win something). So I support Schein for predicting something.

I’m not saying he’s wrong. I just don’t see what he’s seeing.

This Jets team has middling NFL talent, and they don’t make up for it with execution. They do have the best cornerback tandem in the NFL, but that’s where it ends. The Jets’ linebackers are aging, and they have added more quantity than quality to the defensive line in recent years.  Their offensive line struggled last year, and their only addition to the skill positions starts at punt protector. Whatever [name] thinks has transformed this 8-8 team into a Super Bowl contender, I just don’t see it.

Schein grounds his prediction in the force of Rex’s personality. But, as I’ve questioned before, it’s unclear that force of personality motivates modern players the same way it did yesterday’s.

Here’s what works, both in Buddy’s day and Rex’s: talented, motivated, disciplined players focused on a single goal, and just enough innovation to stay a step ahead of the competition. Schein can ask Bill Belichick. He can ask Jimmy Johnson. Ask Bill Walsh or Chuck Knoll.

Ask Buddy Ryan. He probably hopes that Rex realizes it sooner than he did.

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