Rex Ryan – Super Bowl or Bust?

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Updated: August 19, 2011

Ever since Rex Ryan’s introductory press conference as the head coach of the New York Jets, he has been a one man wrecking crew of entertaining quotes (http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/01/21/top-10-rex-ryan-quotes/), blustery predictions, and unabashed swagger.  With a persona as big as his waistline that is perfectly suited for New York City, Ryan has backed up much of his brash talk by leading the Jets to the brink of the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons.  Through the sheer force of his personality (and legendary performance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last summer) he has managed to make the Jets relevant again in a city that has always been, for the most part, a “Giants” town.   

While it makes for good print when Ryan verbally takes shots at opposing coaches (Bill Belichick) and players (Tom Brady, Channing Crowder), it is sometimes overlooked what a good head coach he is.  Long considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL, he had been passed over for head coaching jobs for years before landing with the Jets.  In his first two seasons with the Jets he has been to the AFC Championship games twice, won four playoff games with a young quarterback, and helped mold one of the league’s top defensive units.  His signature moment came during the 2010 playoffs, as he outcoached Belichick in leading his Jets to an upset of the New England Patriots in Foxborough.  Tom Brady and his hair transplants are still burning over that one. 

Despite these accomplishments, due to the Super Bowl or Bust expectations Ryan has laid on his squad the first two years of his tenure almost feel like a letdown.  This shouldn’t be the case, as due to the salary cap structure of the NFL, everyone is playing on a level playing field and getting to the playoffs in back to back years is a difficult task.  It is admirable that Ryan has the belief in his team to accomplish the task of winning the Super Bowl, but with the NFL’s hard cap it isn’t unreasonable for fifteen to twenty teams to have similar expectations.  This isn’t baseball, where the New York Yankees payroll is often four to five times that of others teams, giving them a decided advantage and therefore realistic expectation to compete for the World Series year after year.   A few franchises, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts, have the organizational structures (and elite Quarterbacks) in place to remain competitive each year, but most teams go through ups and downs as their rosters and coaching staffs turn over every few years. 

Also, with football being such a violent sport, every team is only an injury or two away from having their season fall apart.  While last year’s Packers proved that a team can be deep enough to overcome a rash of injuries, if it had been Aaron Rodgers who went down I find it unlikely that they would’ve won the Super Bowl.  Growing up in a football family and being around the game for decades, Ryan knows better than anyone that freak accidents happen every week that test the depth of a roster.   Despite his football pedigree, he still makes his proclamations on a regular basis, leaving himself open to criticism and second guessing from the numerous NYC scribes and sports talk personalities who revel in seeing him fall short of his lofty goals. 

I must admit that ever since the antics of “Hard Knocks”, I have followed the Jets and hope that Rex Ryan eventually wins a Super Bowl.  With quarterback Mark Sanchez on the rise and a majority of key players still in the prime of their careers, it’s possible that this is the year they win it.  However, given the overall competitive nature of the NFL and myriad of teams with a reasonable chance to compete for the few playoff spots available, it might suit Ryan to lay off the Super Bowl or Bust mantra.  The NFL is too unpredictable, and a 10-6 season can turn into 6-10 in the blink of an eye.  Given the belief he has in himself, his coaching staff, front office, and players this is unlikely to occur.  Either way, I will eagerly tune in this season to watch the weekly reality show that is Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.   

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