Buddy Ryan, by all accounts, was a man of action more than a man of words. This is illustrated best when you look at his military service. At the age of 18, Buddy was given a field promotion to Master Sergeant in the US Army’s 45th Infantry during the height of the Korean War. If stories can be believed, he spent much of that time punching his own soldiers in their peach fuzz-covered faces when their courage faltered and they became a danger to the soldiers with whom they shared foxholes. They were putting Buddy’s men in harm’s way, and he was finding any way he could to get them to keep fighting.
Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that Buddy once punched his fellow coordinator for the Houston Oilers, Kevin Gilbride, right in the face before halftime in a game against our very own New York Jets. Gilbride ran the Run and Shoot offense, nicknamed by Buddy the “Chuck and Duck” because of how little protection it provided the quarterback, and also its low rate of efficiency. And thus, it kept Buddy’s men on the field far too long, and placed them directly in harm’s way; his defensive unit had already lost a number of players to injury, and had Buddy blamed it on Gilbride’s gimmick offense.
Fast forward 18 years, to Rex Ryan, defensive prodigy, twin son of Buddy Ryan, and 3rd year head coach of the New York Jets. A man who cries in the locker room, names irresponsible quitters as player leadership, and defends his offensive coordinator time and time again for passing the ball at nearly record rates. How did this happen? Rex and his brother Rob, according to numerous biopics and Rex’s own published words, did not spend a large amount of their formative years with his father, mainly because of Buddy’s feverish coaching schedule, because of the boys’ need for something resembling a normal home life and a good education. It can then be surmised that Rex had more of a maternal influence, having spent most of those early years with his mother and grandmother. But does this really explain the vast rift of difference between Rex and Buddy’s coaching styles?
Let us forget about the rumors of bounties that Rex reportedly placed on Steelers players during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, forget the “If there’s a fight on the field, hold one of their guys” technique, and forget burying the ball behind the goal post. These methods were taken directly from the Buddy Ryan Unwritten Book of Leadership. They do not provide a true reflection of Rex as a man, and as a coach. These methods fly in the face of what we now know about Rex Ryan. The glad-handing, fist-pumping, praise-heaping, inspirational-speaking teddy bear, who just cannot find it in himself to publicly criticize any of his troops, much less give them a wakeup call in the form of a knuckle sandwich.
Let’s take a look at two examples: Kerry Rhodes and Santonio Holmes. During a piece on NFL Network in 2009, the newly-acquired Braylon Edwards visited his friend and teammate Kerry Rhodes at his home, with a very awkward looking Mark Sanchez in tow. Most of this piece was filled with fluff, but there is an exchange between Rhodes and Edwards that tells us a lot. Braylon asks Kerry what to expect from practices, and Rhodes tells him that they can be tough, “but if you a player, you chill.” Chill? As in not put forth effort in practice? Can anyone – ANYONE – imagine a player saying something like this about a Buddy Ryan practice? Or imagine one of Buddy’s men pout and quit on games, as Rhodes was known to do? Kerry Rhodes put his fellow teammates in harm’s way. That deserved a punch in the face, in some form or another. Instead, he was summarily shuffled from the deck. And then we have the New York Jets Minister of Slack, Santonio Holmes. Smoker of gangja, thrower of drinks, indignant user of iPods, and undisputed quitter of games. Unjustly awarded the title of team Captain and unjustly awarded a comfortable contract. And endless praise from his head coach, Rex Ryan.
What does Santonio do in return when lavished with these accolades and responsibilities? He disappears for the majority of the season, stops giving effort, and argues with his teammates in the film room and in the huddle. This behavior, which undoubtedly puts his teammates in harm’s way, deserves a haymaker, not just a punch. But I think Buddy Ryan would have bypassed the punch in the face method, and opted instead to throw this guy from the nearest cliff. This is not to say that staunch fans and supporters of Rex Ryan should turn heel and spit bile and call for his head.
Rex Ryan, for all of his faults, is still a work in progress as a head coach. This work should be allowed to progress, and if possible, be perfected. But not all efforts of this type are allowed the time required to be refined, especially not in an unforgiving place like New York.
Buddy Ryan never reached his ultimate goal as a head coach, even though he is a living legend as a coordinator. Because of this, it may be possible that Rex has taken his father’s militaristic disciplinarian approach to the game of football as a sign of what not to do, and has drifted too far in the opposite direction. Rex has removed accountability from his players and coaches, and placed a rather large target on his already sizeable countenance. Rex Ryan, it is time to take more than just gimmick coaching methods from your hall of fame father. A change in your personal philosophy is in order. Your troops are recklessly placing each other in harm’s way. It’s time to punch some faces, Rex. Figuratively, of course.