If the Jets lose Sunday to the Patriots, as they are highly expected to do, the general consensus is that coach Rex Ryan will be exposed as a fraud whom no one will take seriously any longer. After all, Ryan has been talking all season about how the Jets are Super Bowl favorites, how his team is better than anyone else’s, how his guys are better than your guys. This is exactly what fans and media love both to punish and to reward. If the Jets are as good as Ryan has claimed all along that they are, he is a visionary genius, as well as a badass. If they aren’t, Ryan’s a boorish boob who doesn’t know when to shut his mouth. These are all media narratives, though. We’re not sure they have anything to do with what a football coach’s job is.
That is to say: Ryan’s primary job, the focus of a large part of his public energy, is to be the face of the team, the yapping dog that angers the other team and draws all the spotlight so that his players are allowed to be left alone to do their jobs. Sometimes this backfires, like when there are pictures of your wife’s feet all over the Internet, and sometimes you can’t control everything, like when your cornerback calls the opposing quarterback an asshole, but on the whole, Ryan keeps the camera on him because it has to go somewhere.
Ryan appears to be a buffoon because that’s who he plays on television. (The short shorts and the middle fingers don’t help, either.) But this is a real football coach, with real game plans and game-calling and roster construction and all the things real football coaches do. The New York Jets have made it to the playoffs two consecutive seasons only five times in their history (they’ve never made them three seasons in a row); one of those streaks coincides with Rex Ryan’s first two seasons as coach. This was not a terrific team when Ryan came here. He has made it his own, and he has succeeded. It’s difficult to ask much more of a new coaching hire. Since he came here, he has led the Jets to three playoff victories, the most in the NFL during that time (tied with the Saints). He didn’t do that through boisterous press conferences.
Moreover: His players love him. What seems like nonsense boasting to fans and reporters comes across as belief and trust to his players. After last week’s win over Indianapolis, Cromartie spoke for the locker room when he said, “He’s got our back, and he knows we’ve got his.” We see a coach blathering on about how fantastic his team is, how they’re going to win the Super Bowl, and we mock him for it, patting ourselves on the back for knowing that sports is too fickle and unpredictable for anyone to be so certain of himself. But Ryan is no moron: He is fully aware how football can make the braggart look the fool. Whether or not he looks silly is beyond his concern: He is here is to instill faith in his players and take the heat. Since his very first day as Jets coach, he has done this splendidly.
The Patriots may wipe the floor with the Jets on Sunday, and the Jets will spend the off-season trying, once again, to bridge the gap with their northeast rivals. Ryan will be hammered for being too boastful, for his supposed sin of pride. That will not affect the team, though, and it will not affect the man. He knows what he’s doing. He always has. It’s the rest of us who have missed the point.
And if the Jets win? Well, then Ryan looks like he was a step ahead of everyone else the whole time, and he is a hero. Which was surely part of the plan in the first place, too. Rex Ryan is a buffoon like a fox.