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The pressure and criticism already are mounting for Rex Ryan, but the New York Jets coach laughed off the latest controversy -- his decision to leave the team on cutdown day to attend his son's college game Saturday night at Clemson.
"I think it's comical because, quite honestly, our cuts were made Friday," Ryan said Tuesday on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
Ryan also said it's "comical" that the Jets are ranked 32nd in ESPN's Week 1 power poll. He said "it's not even close" to being accurate.
Not many are giving the Jets much of a chance this season. They're mired in a quarterback controversy -- Ryan still hasn't named a Week 1 starter even though sources say it will be rookie Geno Smith -- and there are questions about whether Ryan has lost power under new general manager John Idzik.
Ryan fueled the perception by flying south on cutdown day. His son, Seth, is a freshman walk-on receiver for Clemson, and Ryan wanted to be there to see the Tigers face Georgia even though he knew Seth wouldn't play. His trip became public because fans tweeted pictures of themselves posing with Ryan at the airport and tailgate parties.
"You talk about two loves: I love the Jets and I love my family," said Ryan, adding that his father, former coach Buddy Ryan, never watched him play a college game.
"I was happy to get that opportunity," Ryan said. "I certainly wouldn't have gone if I couldn't do my job. I stayed in constant contact with John. If I had to do it over again, absolutely, 100 percent I would do it over again."
Ryan said he stayed at the Jets' facility until almost 2 a.m. Saturday, helping with the roster cutdown. He said he met with "several" players who were released, not including players who were waived because of injury, such as quarterback Greg McElroy. Ryan said he was involved in every decision.
By 4 a.m., he was on his way to Clemson. He wasn't around Saturday evening, when teams received the list of cuts from around the league. In past years, Ryan was known for occasionally leaving the facility during periods of roster movement, always telling the front office to call him if it needed his input. It became a big story this time because his role seemingly has been marginalized under Idzik, who will decide Ryan's fate after the season.
Former coach Tony Dungy, always known as a family-first coach, praised Ryan for visiting his son. Dungy said he used to rent private jets to fly home to Florida to see his kids play sports. His son, James, committed suicide in 2005.
"I'm going to give [Ryan] a big round of applause," Dungy said on an NBC Sports conference call. "I think it's great. I think Coach Ryan is like any dad, excited to see his son. When you can work out the schedule to do it, I think you should. … I think it was great that he did that. It actually made me feel good. I was proud of him."
An AFC executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of Ryan's decision, "I can't criticize a guy for being a great dad, but I think you have an obligation to your team, which is paying you a lot of money."
Not every coach has the same philosophy. A source said New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin declined an opportunity to serve as an honorary captain Saturday at MetLife Stadium, where his alma mater, Syracuse, played Penn State. The Giants' offices are located across the parking lot from the stadium, but Coughlin opted not to participate in the coin-toss ceremony because he felt obligated to be at the team facility for the final cuts.
The season hasn't begun and already Ryan looks drained. His usual bravado is gone. He has become secretive when it comes to injuries, likely adhering to a directive from Idzik, who has changed the culture in the organization. Ryan used to mock coaches who provided vague information on injuries; now he's one of them.
Despite the stress, Ryan insisted, "This is the funnest year I've ever had."
The experts aren't predicting the Jets to be a fun team to watch, as ESPN ranked them dead last in the league.
"I can tell you one thing: We feel good about ourselves," Ryan said. "We think we have an excellent football team. If you evaluate us as a team, the way we play as a team, I certainly don't agree with (being ranked last), not even close."