Within a week after he was fired (perhaps rashly) by the New York Jets, former coach Eric Mangini had a new job with the Cleveland Browns. But it took his old team three weeks to settle on a replacement: The Jets are expected to announce today that they have hired Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, as their new head coach. They likely would have hired him before now, but league rules don't allow teams to offer jobs until a coach's season is over. The Ravens' loss to the Steelers last night in the AFC Championship game took care of that.
Ryan has been with the Ravens for more than a decade, helping orchestrate one of football's most dominant defenses. Many were surprised when the Ravens hired John Harbaugh as coach over him before this season and assumed Ryan would likely be off to another job once he had the chance. (Though, by all accounts, Ryan and Harbaugh got along fine.) Ryan is the son of former Bears defensive coordinator and Eagles and Cardinals head coach Buddy Ryan. He is not to be confused with his twin brother Rob Ryan, who was recently hired away from the Raiders to become defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, and who sports a rather awesome mullet.
The first question for Ryan will concern Brett Favre, and what to do with him. As usual, Favre is saying he'll need "several weeks" to make up his mind about whether to return, but it's of considerable debate whether Ryan even wants him. Jets owner Woody Johnson says he wants Favre to return, but it's Ryan's decision. He's probably already decided, even if Favre's still dithering.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Ryan and Mangini is that Ryan has an affable, smiling, goofy-big-lug presence to him. His players adore him, and the surprise is not that he got a head-coaching job, but that it took him this long. (He was passed over for Miami and Atlanta last year as well.) He's an ideal hire for an ownership group who often found Mangini too green; he's experienced, respected by all, and a true professional who was overdue for a top job. That doesn't necessarily mean this'll work, though; they said the same things about Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' last defensive coordinator to take a head job, who has run the Cincinnati Bengals into the ground (yet, amazingly, still has a job). There's also a little bit of a small-town feel to Ryan; he seems like he'd be more comfortable doing a commercial for a used-car company than running a commanding, big-city, Parcells-like news conference.
But Mangini wasn't so good at it either, and the Jets clearly needed a new start. Ryan has a score of questions to answer — his first press conference will be Wednesday, because the Jets, interestingly, are waiting until after Obama's inauguration to introduce him — and not all that much time to answer them. Mostly, Ryan is an old steady hand for a franchise that needs one. If he can do it all with a smile, then all the better. Because there might not be all that much to smile about.