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Rex Ryan thinks the Bills could make playoffs, despite what experts say

It is fair to say that former Buffalo Coach Rex Ryan would rather be at St. John Fisher College today preparing for the start of the Bills training camp than in Los Angeles in front of the nation's television critics to talk about his new role as a football analyst on ESPN.

In a wide-ranging, 30-minute telephone interview prior to the Los Angeles news conference, a reflective Ryan was envious of the power that new Coach Sean McDermott has been given, complimentary to owners Terry and Kim Pegula and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and surprisingly upbeat about his former team's chances in the 2017 season.

Would you believe, Rex thinks the Bills have a chance to make the playoffs?

Did he say playoffs?

Ryan clearly has calmed down since he told the New York Daily News several months ago that he was "tired of being (expletive deleted) over" after being fired for the second time in three seasons.

"Yeah, it probably is not as raw," said Ryan, laughing when reminded of some of his comments. "I was still bleeding at the time. It was still very raw to me. As a competitor, I wanted to succeed. I don't have any regrets. The Pegulas are awesome. But Terry made a decision to go a different way and he has that right, he is the owner of the team. But believe me, I think the world of Terry Pegula and Kim. I didn't agree with it. I thought the team was close. It is what it is. I feel privileged to have the two years I spent in Buffalo and definitely was privileged to spend six years with the (New York) Jets as head coach."

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He now is practicing to be a television analyst rather than leading a NFL practice.

"It feels really strange to me quite honestly," said Ryan. "But I am kind of excited about what is in front of me. It definitely is an adjustment."

His regular role with be on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, but he also will be the analyst alongside Beth Mowins on play-by-play for the Sept. 11 Monday Night Football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos.

It will be TV history for Mowins, a day of pride for Ryan.

Mowins will be the first woman to do play-by-play on a regular season game in about 20 years and only the second in history. Ryan will be working a game in which his former assistant, Anthony Lynn, will be making his Chargers coaching debut with Ryan's son, Seth, on the Charger staff after winning a national championship with Clemson.

"She's clearly the professional," said Ryan. "I think it is good that I am paired with a true pro. I think it is kind of neat that she is making history and that is going to be a great thing for her."

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He laughed at the idea that he would be under any pressure as a rookie analyst.

"I definitely don't feel any pressure," said Ryan, laughing loudly. "Not even close. I'll just be myself. I've been myself forever. The one positive thing about not coaching is there is no pressure. I'm just going to be me and let it fly, have some fun with it."

He expects big things from Lynn.

"I think the world of Anthony; he coached with me for eight years. I think he'll be a star in the league as a head coach," said Ryan of the man who coached the Bills final game last season after Ryan was fired with a 7-8 record in his second season with the Bills.

He didn't always like what he read in the media, but he understood commentators had their job to do.

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Ryan cleared up a few things that were reported last season. He said he and former General Manager Doug Whaley were never given "an ultimatum" to make the playoffs last season.

"No, 100 percent bull," said Ryan. "Absolutely did not. It certainly looks like that was a true statement because the minute we were eliminated from the playoffs I get fired. I get where that is coming from. But that was never the case. Terry and I never had that conversation."

He used the same word when asked about a recent USA Today prediction that the Bills will finish this season 4-12.

"There's no way in hell," said Ryan. "That's a coach's dream, to have that kind of prediction because there is no pressure on you but I think that is total bull. If that is the case, why was I fired when I was fired if that's how bad this team was? So I don't get that. To saddle them with four wins, I totally disagree with that."

"I feel the Bills will surprise a ton of people," said Ryan. "They are kind of trying to float this under the radar stuff, which I get. That's probably the way to go, that's the way everybody goes. Undersell and overproduce. I get it. I believe they will have a lot better year than the experts. Could they be a playoff team? They might very well be."

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One reason he is more optimistic about the Bills than other experts is because he noted the Bills lost several games by a touchdown or less in 2016 and led in the fourth quarter of many of them.

"We just didn't finish," said Ryan as he went over several games that slipped away. "Our record may have showed that we were mediocre but I thought the team was better than that. We had some substantial injuries. The only games that (receiver) Sammy Watkins played he had a broken foot in. Reggie Ragland might have been the best player we had on our entire football team and he gets hurt in training camp."

Ryan is a big fan of Taylor and thinks he'll have a much better year if Watkins is healthy and the Bills don't lose their top six receivers to injury as they did a year ago.

Tyrod Taylor (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

"I love him," said Ryan of Taylor. "I think he's a winner. I think … if he has some healthy receivers, a healthy Sammy Watkins, some other guys who can play and give this guy a chance… I know he prepares. He has got what it takes to play quarterback in that league."

Ryan addressed several other things related to the Bills, often chuckling:

On the tattoo of his Bills colors: "It is kind of where it is," said Ryan, laughing. "That was something that was important to me I wanted everybody to know I was all in. Maybe not everybody else was, but I certainly was the day I took that job and right up to the last day I was in Buffalo. So the tattoo is still there."

On the difference between the New York and Buffalo media: He noted the New York media is ten times the size of Buffalo's. "Everybody has a job to do and the right to say what they want, opinions. And that's the way it should be. There are a lot of really good people in both places, whether I was criticized or not, that was part of the gig. If you can’t handle that kind of responsibility then you are in the wrong business. I enjoyed both places. Was I always treated fairly or whatever? Probably not. But who cares? That's just the way it goes. I definitely don't have any ill feelings toward either spot."

On ex Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore's tweets about getting more national exposure now that he is a New England Patriot: "Trust me they are not watching New England to watch Stephon Gilmore, as much as I love Stephon. I think he is a great player. I think he can benefit from it. I think he will, after this year, be in the conversation of being one of the top corners in the league because people will get to see him play. I get his point, but I don't think he meant any disrespect to Bills fans at all."

On whether he regrets introducing then Presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Buffalo: "I have absolutely no regrets for doing the Trump rally. I was asked to do that by somebody that I know. I am proud to be an acquaintance of Donald Trump. I felt honored he asked me to speak. I'm not a politician I don't know politics that well. Just because I support Donald Trump doesn't mean I support 100 percent everything he has ever done. I'm proud I know Donald Trump and I support him. And by the way, he happens to be our President. And I think anybody who is against him now is against our country. Without question, I'm proud to be a proud supporter of Donald Trump."

Ryan Ryan introduces Donald Trump at a Buffalo rally in 2016. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

About whether he regrets hiring his brother Rob: "He's one of the best coaches I've ever been around, if not the best. I think that was a great move. Did it always work out 100 percent? No, but that is not his fault. If everybody gave the effort he gave, we might have been undefeated. You have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. This is the most prepared coach that there is in the league. Some of the players got it, some of them don't. Some of them just want to go home after work. But for the real pros, they love him and appreciated him."

About whether he was surprised about the firing of Whaley and the timing after the draft: "I was surprised a little bit of both. I think Doug is a really good evaluator of talent. I think he does a nice job that way. At the end of the day, the head coach should have more say about what is going on. I think the direction this team is going in is a real positive thing. You gotta be on the same page. If you're not on the same page, then you are spinning your wheels."

On whether he and Whaley were on the same page? "On several things, absolutely we were. I like Doug Whaley. There are clearly some differences on some things. That is to be expected. I'm definitely not pointing fingers at Doug Whaley. He wanted to win, no question. But hey, it didn't work out. But hopefully he'll get another opportunity down the road."

On whether he has any advice for McDermott: "I don't think he needs a whole lot of advice. The team clearly has one direction and I think that is a real positive for him…. He has to feel great about that."

On whether he is as envious of McDermott as it sounded: "I think any coach would be. I've never had that situation, but most coaches don't have that. He has a great owner. Terry is so passionate about his teams. I felt bad that I let him down, never got it done the way I wanted to. But he is a great man. He treated me well. The answer was 'yes' to many things that I asked for. Not all thing, but many things that I asked for."

On whether he misses anything about Buffalo: "There are tons of things I miss. I miss the people there. They were great. The fans there. When I took the job, I said I wanted a team that was built on that image, loyal. Loyal is a big thing. And committed to their team. I wasn't successful in that but the fans always were. The fans were always there for me, that team, that city. And that's the beauty of Buffalo and the resolve of their people. It ain't easy all those years not going (to the playoffs). But you know what, we are going to roll up our sleeves and go at it again. And that's the way that community is. And I think that's what they appreciated about me because they know I tried. They know damn well, I tried."

On whether some shots he took about his work ethic bothered him: "The work ethic would always bother me. I worked my (behind) off always. Whoever said it is full of (expletive deleted). To question my work ethic is ridiculous."

On who he will be rooting for when the Bills open the regular season against the Jets: "The Jets," he said laughing. "I'm just kidding. I really don't care. I'm not cheering for either one of those teams. But it is interesting they are opening up against each other."

email: apergament@buffnews.com

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