I Like Rex Ryan. But there were times during this year’s disappointing campaign that I wasn’t sure I did. His sidelines at times appeared chaotic, he needs to improve his game and clock management skills, and most obviously, he must be better tuned in to the psyche of the players in his locker-room. But these are skills, and skills can be developed and improved. Most coaches achieve greatness because of something beyond skill, something less tangible. They have an innate quality that only exists in great leaders of men, to get the most out of each individual, sharing the virtue of suffering, sacrificing personal achievement for team success. Coach Rex Ryan can be that leader. It is clear after three seasons with the Jets, his players will lay it on the line for him. The recognition of the exceptions and the taking of swift and decisive action is when true leadership emerges.
I first thought about this when I read that Patriot’s Head Coach Bill Belichick made rookie Stevan Ridley inactive for the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. In a 45-10 victory over the Denver Broncos, Ridley fumbled in the third quarter. Who would even notice a fumble in a game so dominated by the Patriots? Coach Belichick took notice and action as Ridley didn’t see the field again that day and perhaps the rest of the year. When you consider how many carries Ridley was getting for a team not very deep at running back, Coach Belichick’s message was loud and clear, achieve greatness or stay home.
Looking back on the New York Jets season there were plenty of opportunities to send this same message, most notably perhaps with Matt Mulligan. When you consider penalties, poor blocking, and a sideline argument with RB coach Anthony Lynn, a missed opportunity by Rex to make a huge statement of Mulligan’s inability to achieve greatness, could have put the rest of the team on notice. Leadership is having the courage to make unpopular decisions. When you stand at a podium and insist you are good enough to win a Super Bowl but allow mediocrity in the locker room, it’s not talent holding the team back, it is a lack of genuine leadership.
When comparing the two coaches, Ryan and Belichick, there is one huge difference. Coach Ryan wants to live up to his label of a “player’s coach”, to be liked by his players and they in turn will play hard. It’s a “when they feel good they will play well” philosophy. Coach Belichick has never sought the “player’s coach” label and he demands greatness out of everyone, all the time. It’s a “play well and you will feel good” philosophy.
Ironically in the end, both coaches are liked by their players, but for right now many players who like Belichick, have rings on their fingers.