Rex Ryan showed up Wednesday morning dressed in red for his weekly gathering with the media, but he wasn’t exactly feeling the holiday spirit. The Bills head coach was considerably less jolly than the chubby old fellow with the white beard and red suit who spreads cheer at this time of year.
Ryan looked and sounded like he was holding a presser after announcing the wrong winner in the Miss Universe pageant or, worse, when he coached the Jets. He left the rah-rah speech in his pocket. He couldn’t muster any bravado that once endeared him to a desperate fan base that now views him as a fraud.
Rather than provide simple answers to direct questions, he bobbed and weaved with his usual grace Wednesday. He was asked, aside from the four years left on his contract, what he believed warranted him returning next season. He refused to give a single example while saying such matters would be addressed after the season.
“This has never been about me,” he said, “and it won’t be about me.”
Rex wasn’t fooling anyone, of course. It has been about him since the day he arrived. If I can see through him, and you can see through him, a vast majority of his players must see through him. Based on their recent comments, it sounds like he’s lost credibility with them, too.
Ryan was a local treasure after he rolled into Buffalo, the guy you could invite to a backyard bonfire. In less than a year, he has morphed into a communal piñata. Once defiant, he came off Wednesday like a beaten man who was prepared to put out his last cigarette and accept condemnation before an angry mob.
“It’s driven through frustration. In a lot of people’s eyes, our own included, we’ve underperformed, I think,” Ryan said. “That’s where this stuff is driven from. Any time you go through a season when you set high expectations for yourself, you have high expectations for yourself, you open yourself up to this.”
For a guy who repeatedly says he gets it, I’m not sure he does.
Buffalo fans can stomach losing. Heaven knows they’ve had enough practice. But it’s how the Bills failed this season that has so many people in an uproar. If you’re going down here, you’d better go down swinging. Rex can talk all he wants, but he retreated all year much like he did Wednesday.
The Bills are a mighty mess, much worse and less stable than they were last season. Ryan has been under siege for weeks. It sounds like most fans want him fired. Players started questioning his defense two months ago, and they’re not holding back. His locker room is fragmented. His team is 6-8 and playing out the string.
For fans and media to rip the head coach is nothing new. Coaches easily dismiss criticism from outside the organization. They become immune to the noise. But it’s a different story when blame comes from inside the organization with disturbing ease and regularity. It sure sounds like he’s losing his players.
And that’s a major problem.
Athletes take gripes to the media about coaching because A) they’ve become exasperated and believe they have no other choice; B) they don’t respect the coach enough to care about potential repercussions; C) their days with the organization are numbered or D) they’re Mario Williams.
For weeks, Williams has criticized coaching. It would be easy to disregard Williams and make him a target after watching him go through the motions. He’s an overpaid diva, but he’s hardly the only player who has criticized the coaching or the scheme. Marcell Dareus joined him earlier in the season.
Most recently, defensive backs spoke against his suggestion they lacked confidence. Corey Graham talked about confusion in the secondary. Preston Brown complained about defensive calls being slow to reach the huddle. You can only imagine what comments players are keeping among themselves.
“Are there things you can say behind closed doors that are more appropriate? Maybe so,” Ryan said. “But I’d rather give our fans a true picture of our team. I’ve never been afraid of that in my life. Sometimes it’s going to be positive. Sometimes it’s going to be negative. This just in, when the season doesn’t go well, this is what it looks like.”
This just in, the picture you see today looks like doodle from a 3-year-old.
It comes back to Ryan, who never considered the possibility that his players were right. Williams didn’t back down Wednesday, either. He made sure to say the Ravens, whose defense dominated when Ryan was the coordinator, had different personnel than the Bills have this season. And that’s been the point all along.
Rex has authority over his team. He forced his schemes on his players when he should have found schemes that suited his team. The mark of good coaches is their ability to adjust to their personnel. Ryan attempted to jam the proverbial square block into a round hole. Then again, at best, he’s an average coach.
Ryan is taking his early success with the Jets for a glorious ride. He’s six games under .500 in his career as a head coach and two games under .500 with the Bills team that was upgraded after finishing 9-7. Over his past three-plus seasons, he has a 24-38 record. He has missed the playoffs six straight seasons.
“We haven’t had the results to match my enthusiasm about this group,” he said. “We know it needs to get better.”
Ryan offered up various excuses, as if Bills fans hadn’t heard them from other coaches who fell short. He talked about injuries, as if nobody paid attention while the Patriots continued to roll all season despite being decimated by ailments to key players. Or the Steelers remained in contention after losing franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a month and Le’Veon Bell for the season.
At one point, he suggested his players weren’t smart enough for his defense. Or he claimed the Bills couldn’t catch a break. Lately, the Bills dropped hints about needing time to adjust to a new coach. It was the same rhetoric after Gregg Williams was hired, and Mike Mularkey, and Dick Jauron, and Chan Gailey, and Doug Marrone.
Meanwhile, other teams had success right away with new coaches. Look no further than the Jets, who after firing Ryan are 9-5 and fighting for a playoff spot under rookie head coach Todd Bowles. Denver is 10-4 under Gary Kubiak, who is playing a backup quarterback while Peyton Manning nurses an injury.
Look at the results in Buffalo.
The Bills’ defense, a strength before he arrived, is now a weakness. Their special teams are comical. The offense is better after adding Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor but still not good enough. Game management, including replay decisions, has been shoddy. His team has lacked discipline.
Otherwise, Rex has done a fantastic job.
As it appears now, Ryan isn’t going anywhere with $22 million remaining on his contract after this season. For Terry and Kim Pegula to fire him after one season would mean admitting a mistake. They are the same people who kept Darcy Regier for three years after it was obvious he needed to be replaced.
Really, what’s the sense in keeping Ryan? There’s an argument for maintaining continuity with their coaching staff after seeing so many changes over the years, but it’s only valid with the right man in charge. The Bills can make Ryan earn his keep, but it’s prolonging the inevitable.
It comes back to the first question Rex was asked Wednesday, one among many he never really answered. Allow me. What warrants him returning for another season, other than his contract? Nothing.