Commentary

The downside to Rex Ryan's bluster

The Jets have been talking the talk, but they aren't exactly walking the walk just yet

Originally Published: September 15, 2010
By Johnette Howard | Special to ESPN.com

The problem with Jets coach Rex Ryan's inclination to run what often looks like the NFL's biggest frat house is his conceit that he can overcome or live with everything that could go wrong. You know, players acting like louts, players and coaches deciding to perhaps harass a good-looking woman when one comes along, players and coaches metaphorically barfing on their shoes when the lights go up on the most eagerly awaited season opener in the team's history -- Monday's prime-time flop against the hacked-off Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargeRyan
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesNothing much Rex Ryan called from the sideline worked on Monday night against the Ravens.

The Jets are 0-1 and already reeling with AFC East rival New England coming to town Sunday. That would be the same Patriots team that just punctured the preseason hype around the Bengals by dropping 38 points on Cincinnati's heads.

The same Patriots whose quarterback, Tom Brady, says he "hates" the Jets.

It was only one game, one 10-9 Jets loss. It's far too soon to damn their entire season with taunts of "I told you so." But the sometime-sophomoric culture around the team deserves a look, nonetheless.

The overarching question about Ryan entering his second season with the Jets has always been this: Is he just an entertaining caricature of a big-talking, fun-loving, cussing football coach who really knows his stuff, or is he something worse?

The early returns in 2010 aren't good.

League officials were at Jets headquarters Tuesday looking into whether Ryan, defensive backfield coach Dennis Thurman and some Jets players harassed Ines Sainz, a reporter for Mexico's Azteca TV who was at the team's practice facility Saturday. The incident has blown up into a national story. And even before that, the league was investigating whether Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer violated any rules by visiting the offseason workouts that Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez hosted with some teammates in California.

It's bad enough that some of the Jets players allegedly acted boorishly toward Sainz on Saturday by hooting and shouting catcalls at her when she went to the locker room. But if the stories are accurate about that or what happened on the practice field earlier in the day, what were Ryan and Thurman -- two members of management -- doing yukking it up like schoolboys and concocting a fake passing drill so the players could run by where Sainz was standing?

Wait -- you say she supposedly "asked for it" because she was wearing tight jeans, or because we've since learned she has modeled bikinis in the past? Right. Go try that argument in any court in America. Then get ready to write a check.

The league will handle this eventually, probably not to the Jets' liking. Sainz was a credentialed reporter. The NFL has both rules and experience dealing with the sort of demeaning treatment the Jets reportedly directed at her, and commissioner Roger Goodell has to do something about it. Jets owner Woody Johnson has already apologized to Sainz by telephone, and Ryan was contrite Tuesday, saying, "Everybody should be comfortable. It's a workplace for every reporter here as well as the players."

Mark Sanchez
Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez mustered only 74 passing yards against Baltimore.

Ryan is sometimes called the second coming of John Madden, who coached the Oakland Raiders in their skull-and-crossbones heyday.

But if Ryan isn't careful, he could become the beta version of Pete Carroll instead.

Carroll was a flop in his first NFL head coaching jobs with the Jets and New England. He's since admitted he didn't handle his transition from coordinator to head coach well. He remained too buddy-buddy with his players. When people warned Carroll about it, he went all Sammy Davis Jr. on them and said, "I've gotta be me" -- same as Ryan, a former defensive coordinator with the Ravens, now does.

Ryan isn't likely to make a wholesale personality change anytime soon. But he's going to keep finding that the expectations have changed now that he's moved up one chair and become the on-field boss of a billion-dollar operation. He can't always indulge his inner Blutarsky. Especially not if he keeps throwing a team onto the field that couldn't convert a single third down until late in the fourth quarter against Baltimore and committed 14 penalties for 125 yards, the Jets' highest total in 22 years.

Nobody is laughing with the Jets now. They're laughing at them. And it will only get louder if the Patriots crush Ryan's team while looking like a perfectly humming machine -- everything the 2010 Jets so far are not.

All along, there were signs Monday's fiasco was coming. Sanchez didn't stand out in preseason. The sight of some players wolfing down a bag full of cheeseburgers during a Jets' preseason scrimmage suggested a lack of seriousness. For weeks, radio listeners in New York have been in the disorienting position of hearing Jets legend Joe Namath, of all people, saying in his weekly radio spots that there are no guarantees for the Super Bowl-or-Bust Jets. Broadway Joe is now parsing guarantees?

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan and Woody Johnson
Al Pereira/Getty ImagesJets owner Woody Johnson, right, has already had to apologize for the off-the-field behavior of some of his coaches and players.

The Jets' offseason decisions to dump three locker room leaders -- 1,400-yard rusher Thomas Jones, longtime All-Pro Alan Faneca, and all-purpose back Leon Washington -- and replace them with other teams' cast-off stars such as Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes have been questioned, too. And look: Cromartie had four of the Jets' penalties Monday. Faneca's vacated left guard position remains shaky. Second-year back Shonn Greene, Jones' replacement, fumbled twice and gained only 18 yards in five carries against the Ravens.

There's no real harm in Ryan talking up the Jets as Super Bowl contenders. It wasn't a bad idea for Ryan to blow into New York and decide he needed to shake up the moribund culture of the franchise, then put together the loud, mean, living-on-the-edge team of his dreams. So what if HBO's "Hard Knocks" show revealed he drops so many F-bombs his language is ReXXX-rated?

The danger has always been that all of his bluster can be trumped by the cliché Ryan has heard ad nauseam since he arrived: You've still got to play the games.

As Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said, the more disciplined, poised team won Monday's opener.

That wasn't the 2010 Jets. And we're still not sure they'll be that kind of team.

Johnette Howard is a contributing columnist to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com, and is the author of "The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship." She can be reached at jphinbox@yahoo.com.

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