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Beginning what could be his final week as coach of the New York Jets, Rex Ryan tried to deflect questions Monday about his uncertain future, saying his only focus is the next opponent.
But that was a tough sell, considering Ryan mentioned his tenuous job security Saturday night in a team meeting -- a fiery motivational speech fueled, in part, by anger. He was "pissed" after hearing that management may have already reached out to potential successors, sources said.
"I'm not disgruntled about anything," Ryan claimed on a conference call with reporters. "I'm excited about the opportunity in front of us, which is playing the Dolphins."
|Rex Ryan claims he's not disgruntled by his job status and is only focused on the Jets' next game.|
At first, Ryan refused to confirm or deny an ESPN.com and other media reports that said he was seething during his address to the team because of the rumors.
"I'm not going there," he said. "My focus is on this Miami thing."
Ryan also refused to comment on the speech after Sunday's 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns.
The Jets (7-8) close the season in the spoiler role, hoping to crush the Dolphins' playoff hopes. The following day, owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik likely will announce their plans for Ryan, who has only one year left on his contract.
On Sunday, after the game, Ryan said he hadn't heard from upper management regarding his status for 2014. He sidestepped the same question Monday, saying the organization's only concern is the Dolphins (8-7).
The speculation intensified last week, when the Jets were mathematically eliminated. Evidently, Ryan got wind of something that didn't sit well because he decided to mention to the team that a coaching search may have already begun, sources said.
It wasn't a "Win one for me" motivational tactic. Ryan used it in the context of how everyone in the room faced a cloudy future and how they should go down fighting for each other, sources said.
It's a complicated decision for the Jets.
Ryan has earned praise for his work this season, eclipsing last season's win total (six) in a rebuilding situation, but he missed the playoffs for the third straight year. He reached the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons.
Idzik, hired last January, had no say in Ryan's status for 2013. But, after a year of evaluating the football operation, he may want to bring in his own coach. The feeling in the organization is that Idzik is leaning toward a change, while Johnson is open to the idea of keeping Ryan.
Even though he didn't want to discuss his future, Ryan made sure to state his belief that the Jets are an "ascending" team.
"We're starting to play that way. We're seeing it," he said. "Now it's just, can we end this thing on a huge note, a real positive note against a real good football team?"
Ryan has received tremendous support from his players, many of whom have lobbied publicly to keep him. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith, coming off his best game in two months, said he'd like to continue working with coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach David Lee.
"They won't allow me to take any breaks or take any shortcuts, and that's kind of been the way that I've been learning all season," Smith said, adding: "Having coaches such as Marty and Coach Lee, it really allows me to stay in that moment and just continue to grind and continue to grow as a rookie."
Ryan, knowing his response would be perceived as self-serving, laughed when asked if coaching continuity is important.
"It's easy for coaches to say, 'Yeah, [it makes] all difference in world," he said. "Obviously, you're not starting at ground zero, you're starting where you can take off from. Obviously, the more time you can spend with somebody, the continuity helps. Without question, that helps."