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Rex looks back in time, after final practice

12/26/2014

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- He stood there on the New York Jets practice field Friday, as he has on so many other days.

Rex Ryan insisted he wasn't thinking that this was it, the last time he'd run a Jets practice, leading up to what presumably will be his final game as the team's coach, Sunday in Miami. But even if Ryan wasn't looking forward, he admitted to looking back.

He thought of one of his first practices after the Jets hired him, an offseason workout in April 2009, when two players participating in different drills ran into each other and nearly knocked each other out.

"I thought I might get fired before the next practice," Ryan said with a grin.

There were better days to come, but perhaps worse days, too, given that the Jets under Ryan are 45-50 and in their fourth straight season finishing out of the playoffs. Ryan insisted that he and his staff have succeeded in giving the Jets "a different identity," but it's a little hard right now to label what that identity is.

But even if the end is near, Ryan still isn't complaining about the ride.

"I've got the greatest job in America," he said. "You're (a) head coach in the National Football League. You get to come to work every day and work with a lot of great people. You get to be a kid.

"I'm not good enough to play in [the NFL], but I'm good enough to coach in it. It's great. There's no better job than this is."

Ryan has maintained his enthusiasm right to the presumed end. He said he has tried to operate with the same blinders he tells his players to use to keep the outside talk from affecting them. He was a little disappointed Friday, but only because he said the day's practice session didn't go well, which he attributed to the number of players missing because of illness or injury, rather than to players seeing the finish line of a 3-12 season.

Ryan's players say he hasn't changed, that he's the same guy now that he always has been.

"I love him," wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "I loved him before I got here, and I love him more now."

But the players know the consequences of all the losing. Ryan knows it, too, even if he'd rather not spend all day, every day talking about it.

Asked if he had any mixed emotions about what was possibly his final practice, Ryan chose humor.

"Every Friday, we have a guest kicker," he said. "I made the first one, and missed the second, so that was the mixed emotions."

It was better than that April practice in 2009, one Ryan remembers now as being his first practice with the Jets, although it was actually his second. It's long enough ago that stories from that day quote Ryan praising quarterback Kellen Clemens (the Jets would draft Mark Sanchez a week later, and Sanchez would start Ryan's first game).

"We're out there, and we only have one field," Ryan said. "As we're going, we've got one-on-one drills going. Not recommended that you run a go route on one side (of the field) and a wheel route against a linebacker on the other."

They did, and wide receiver Wallace Wright and linebacker Kenwin Cummings collided head-on.

"Both of them knocked each other out," Ryan said. "That was kind of a great start."

Nothing like that happened Friday. The Jets have a long injury report this week, but that's mostly due to a virus that seems to be going through the locker room, rather than any on-field collisions. And while Ryan said that the communication wasn't great and that he'd challenged his players to focus, he also admitted that this wasn't that bad.

"I'm not overly concerned," he said.

Ryan doesn't seem overly concerned about anything. Not even about losing the greatest job in America.