Commentary

It's time for Coach Ryan to grow up

With his Jets team in turmoil, Rex Being Rex simply won't cut it anymore

Updated: January 3, 2012, 12:06 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When a worn-out-looking Rex Ryan admitted Monday that he lost "the pulse" of his Jets team this season, it was as short and sweet an indictment possible of why his Gotta Be Me management style has got to go. The problem with the Jets during their 8-8 season that ended Sunday with a thudding loss to the five-win Miami Dolphins wasn't just players versus player. It was also, by Ryan's own admission, Ryan's problematic relationship with the team itself.

For once, Ryan put the desperado act on the shelf for a moment Monday, and conceded there were some things he is now second-guessing himself about. A few mea culpas and promises to personally change took the place of his usual unadulterated defiance.

He just didn't go far enough, though the proof of why he should was all around him after he was done pleading, raging and occasionally even shoving away a few tears in his break-up day talk to the team.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Seth WenigRex Ryan's bluster and bravado has backfired yet again. Time for him to act like a head coach.

Everywhere you looked afterward, there seemed to be a fed-up or emotional or shaken Jets player packing up his things.

Jets linebacker Bart Scott walked out of the locker room dragging a black plastic trash bag across the tiled hallway floor and saying little -- until he cussed at a photographer to get his camera out of his face.

Darrelle Revis, normally one of the most accommodating Jets, shouldered through the crowd around his locker with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head, and he looked like he hadn't slept a wink. He just grabbed something from his locker, then silently shouldered his way out past the media mob again, saying "Nope ... Nope ... Nope" to every request to stop and talk.

Then Santonio Holmes did the same thing, refusing to fire back as he headed out the door. Hearing his thoughts on the teammates who basically called him a locker-room cancer will have to wait.

Ryan implored the often-divided Jets to come back as a more unified team next season when he spoke. But how does that sort of change happen when the head coach himself still doesn't see how much he needs to change?

Ryan likes to style himself as the roughest, toughest straight-shooter the NFL coaching fraternity has. It's a point of pride. He again vowed Sunday that "I'll never change" even if the criticism he takes is, in his words, "beyond belief."

But he's wrong. By Monday, it started to seep in how many mistakes were made. By him.

The ugly way the Jets' season ended Sunday with a 19-17 loss to Miami wasn't just a statement on the coaching job Ryan did this year. It was a massive indictment of his judgment. And yet he still doesn't totally get it.

Holmes' lousy behavior during the Miami game and his eventual benching for starting an argument in the huddle during the Jets' last-gasp drive sparked one of the most extraordinary dismemberings of a teammate that you'll ever see by veteran Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson after the game.

But forget the back-page sensationalism. Appreciate Tomlinson's brutally frank undressing of Holmes for what it was: An attempt by the grownups on the Jets to take back the locker room and the culture of the team.

It was the same impulse that moved guard Brandon Moore, the only other Jets veteran who commands the sort of locker-room respect that LT does, to fire back at Holmes in early October after Holmes twice ripped the play of the Jets' offensive line.

Too bad nothing that strong has ever publicly come from Ryan himself -- not back when Holmes first acted out. Not last week when Holmes had yet another run-in, this time with quarterback Mark Sanchez during preparations for their win-or-go-home Miami game. Nor did Ryan come down hard enough on Holmes again Monday, reverting to that old line that we all make mistakes and, oh … never mind.

Ryan's response the first two times Holmes threw some of his offensive teammates under the bus was -- as usual -- a stunt: Ryan, who once buried a football after a 45-3 New England loss, made a grand show of insisting Holmes and Moore had buried the hatchet by having them walk out as captains for the coin toss before that week's "Monday Night Football" game against Miami, supposedly to prove to everyone that bygones were bygones.

Then, perhaps to underscore how much he backed Holmes, Ryan celebrated a touchdown catch Holmes made in the game by meeting him on the sidelines for a flying chest bump.

Ryan couldn't have looked more sophomoric (as opposed to the head of a billion-dollar enterprise) if he tried. It also made you wonder which side of the locker room he was siding with. Because it sure didn't seem like the grownups.

Numerous players admitted Monday that the Jets' team chemistry never was really repaired after that.

"Holmes was calling out the O-line and the O-line was chirping back and all that -- that kind of stuff destroys teams. That's Football 101," Jets guard Matt Slauson said. "You don't call out your teammates -- I mean, you do [demand accountability], but not like that. You don't call them out publicly. You come up to them and say, 'Hey, I got an issue.' You don't go to the press and you don't blast them like that."

By Sunday's loss, the Jets' third straight, so many Jets were fed up that all bets were off. The finger-pointing began.

And Ryan never looked less in control of the team than he has in the past two weeks.

Two Sundays ago, Ryan came to the podium after the Jets' humbling loss to the Giants and had no explanation for why offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had Mark Sanchez throw a ridiculous 59 times. A befuddled Ryan said only that it wasn't the game plan. Then he took the press podium after Sunday's thudding Miami loss and admitted that he didn't know why Holmes was benched -- which pretty much made Ryan the last Jet to know.

Too often Ryan acts like a glorified defensive coordinator rather than the coach of the entire team. His annual Super Bowl guarantees have only succeeded in making Sanchez, his third-year quarterback, look like a failure for not delivering a title by now, when it took the likes of John Elway an entire career. Ryan's baiting of opposing teams and coaches has blown up in the Jets' faces so often that Tomlinson, then Sanchez, then Revis all publicly admitted in recent weeks that yes, it does make rivals play harder against the Jets.

Ryan loves to play the iconoclast, and that will never change. To some extent, the culture change and personality he brought to the Jets was needed. But now he needs to re-evaluate his management style and the downside of how he behaves. When you're the head coach, you can't behave like someone who only wants to hang out with the cool kids in the cafeteria or someone who takes pride in covering for his fellow desperadoes, no matter what.

The Jets took a step backward this season and Ryan didn't deny he was moved to tears as he stood before the team Monday. "I'm Irish, what do you want me to say?" he weakly joked.

The Jets' roster will surely turn over. Ryan's staff will be different, too. But the biggest makeover should start with him. It's Year 4. Time to grow up as a head coach.

The Gotta Be Me act has gotta go.

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