In case you haven’t noticed, new Bills coach Rex Ryan is popular with the media, due to his big personality and supreme confidence in his coaching abilities that he doesn’t exactly hide under a bushel basket.
With the Bills’ organized team activities just nine days away, now’s a good time to catch up on your reading (and viewing) on the colorful career of the new head coach.
Here is a suggested media checklist that we call “Seven Ways of Looking at Rex Ryan.”
• The best place to start is to find a copy of Nicholas Dawidoff’s book “Collision Low Crossers.” The writer spent the 2011-12 season with Ryan’s New York Jets, who gave him an all-access pass to write about the team. The book, a must-read for football fans, is nearly impossible to sum up in a few sentences. But it is particularly insightful about Ryan’s personality and why he inspires such loyalty among players.
Writes Dawidoff: Ryan “drew people out, made them secure in revealing themselves. Ryan noticed personality and character traits and then found ways to apply them to football … ”
The author came to feel “susceptible” to Ryan’s charm.
“I found it easy to get caught up in his infectious confidence, considered him among the most appealing and seductive people I’d ever known. The way he talked was vivid and funny, a jumble-up of man-cave comic patter and jive inflection. …
“Ryan’s attitude was, ‘It’s a game. Don’t take it so seriously,’ by which he meant that the anxiety associated with football’s importance to others should never be allowed to overwhelm a player’s joy in the experience.”
• Ryan authored a book himself, titled “Play Like You Mean It,” released in 2011 and co-written by Don Yeager. The book chronicles Ryan’s 2010 season with the Jets, a year that began with some distractions arising from the team’s appearances on “Hard Knocks” on HBO. Some viewers found Ryan’s salty language objectionable. Ryan writes that others thought the series made it appear that Jets training camp was all play and no work.
“I knew ‘Hard Knocks’ was going to generate interest,” Ryan writes. “Not everyone was going to like it, and that’s fine; that’s what remote controls are for.”
The team also dealt with preseason holdouts by Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold, some further distractions.
If you’ve read many memoirs written by coaches, well, this is another one. It’s got a ton of details about each game of the Jets’ season, details that may only matter to the most obsessive of New York fans. (Spoiler: The Jets went 11-5 and lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game.)
But there are some entertaining aspects, too, such as a chapter about Ryan’s dad, the famous defensive coach Buddy Ryan. Rex says a lot of his genetic makeup is traceable to the old man.
“My dad has refined how to use four-letter words,” he writes. “My God, people talk about about how I talked on ‘Hard Knocks,’ but my dad talked like that in front of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce one time.”
Another insight into Rex’s personality is his chapter called “Tackling Dyslexia,” about his learning to cope with the learning disability. When Ryan was a youngster he lived in Toronto with his mom. The educators at the school he attended thought Rex was “a little slow,” but didn’t diagnose a learning disability. Ryan’s mom worked hard to assist young Rex with school work, including reading his assigned books aloud to him.
“I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons I am where I am in my life is that I found a way to deal with dyslexia, even when I didn’t know I had it,” Ryan writes in the book. “In other words, in its own way, having to deal with it forced me to become who I am. … I want to be a coach and I need to be a coach. I can’t do anything else.”
• The Jets’ season on “Hard Knocks” was entertaining. Episode No. 1 can be found on dailymotion.com. Ryan gets plenty of time on camera in the video chronicle of the Jets’ 2010 preseason training camp in Cortland.
Linebacker Bart Scott says in the episode that the players liked Ryan “because he talks like us.” Ryan tells one of his defensive players, “The next time you punch Sanchez in the face for that kind of pass.”
Ryan even performs bed check himself during camp, a job usually left to subordinates. LaDainian Tomlinson was a new Jet that year, so Ryan hands him some “light reading material,” a packet of press clippings about the team. Tomlinson says with a laugh that it will help him sleep.
Note: The language in the video makes it not safe for work, unless you are employed as a longshoreman or newspaper reporter.
• Jenny Vrentas used to cover Ryan’s Jets for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. She is now a writer for MMQB, the Sports Illustrated football site headed by Peter King.
Vrentas wrote a Sports Illustrated cover story on Ryan’s early transition to Buffalo that appeared in April. The piece was accompanied by a video showing Ryan having a beer at the Big Tree Inn with Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas.
The story said that the coach was already a Buffalo guy:
“Maybe it’s because he drives a pickup and drinks beer; or because his favorite local Mexican restaurant, El Canelo, sits in a strip mall; or because he wore a throwback Thurman Thomas jersey at the combine; or because he orders a plate of wings, even though his lap band won’t let him eat more than one or two during a sitting. Whatever the reason, Ryan has already won over the fans and the franchise’s legends.
“ ‘Mm-hmm. He fits Buffalo,’ Thurman Thomas says, letting out a satisfied chuckle. ‘If this had been his first head coaching job, he’d still be here.’ ”
• The writer Matt Taibbi took a deep dive into Ryan’s final season with the Jets, which ended last December as a “spectacular, Chenobyl-level disaster.” It was published in Grantland before Ryan’s hiring by the Bills.
The piece opens with Jets owner Woody Johnson attending the final game of the season, a 37-24 win over the favored Dolphins in Miami. Johnson is agonizing over the fact that he is a few hours away from firing his popular head coach, a task made more difficult by their ending the season with an unlikely win.
“The whole situation,” Taibbi writes, “is both classic Jets and classic Ryan, who over the past six years has established himself as one of this century’s great American characters – part showman, part salad antagonist, part unlikeliest sex-taper, and, more than occasionally, a big part genius underdog coach.”
After chronicling the highs and many lows of Ryan’s time with the Jets (do the words Butt Fumble ring a bell?), Taibbi closes his piece by wondering if Ryan would get another chance to be a head coach.
“The central question with Rex,” Taibbi writes, “is whether fun can coach and win in the modern NFL, or whether too much fun and ‘fun parenting’ leads inevitably to Butt Fumbles and botched snaps and karmic debacles like Marty Mornhinweg calling Chris Johnson a ‘first-ballot Hall of Famer’ minutes after he signs. And honestly, that may be a dumb question – if Rex Ryan had lucked into a Brees or a Rodgers or a Manning anytime in the last six years, we wouldn’t even be asking it. But he didn’t, and now the Jets have lost the man who was born to coach here, and it” stinks.
“Because the truth is this: Ryan will be a blast to watch in his next stop. But his next stop should have been right where he was.”
• Tom Hanks appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” shortly after Ryan was fired by the Jets. Hanks did impressions of Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Jimmy Johnson and Ryan in a concept he referred to as “NFL head coaches as stepdads,” in which he imagines how the men would talk to their stepchildren. The segment is on YouTube.
In Hanks’ imagination, Ryan, the fun parent, would say to his son: “Are you going to tell me you have never fired a crossbow? You and I are going to do this.”
If Ryan has sons, Hanks says, they would all have crossbows. (The humor doesn’t translate all that well into print, so please dig up the video.)
• A popular Ryan video on YouTube shows the coach “melting down” in a postgame news conference after the Jets beat the Giants in a preseason game in August 2013. Veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez entered the game in the fourth quarter, an uncommon occurrence during an exhibition game, and ended up hurting his shoulder while playing against Giants defensive backups.
After the game, Ryan had no patience for answering questions about his decision to insert Sanchez that late in a preseason game.
“We’ll make the announcement on who the starting quarterback is when we think it’s the appropriate time.” He then pointed at various reporters and said, “Not when this person, or this person” thinks he should make a QB announcement. Ryan gets more sarcastic as the questions continue, though he never reaches full Dennis Green mode (“The Bears are who we thought they were!”)