Rex Ryan's self-appointed leader of the New York Jets -- Mark Sanchez -- is getting blitzed from all sides, with former players questioning his leadership and current players, speaking anonymously, painting him as lazy and coddled.
As expected, Ryan played defense Friday for his embattled quarterback, insisting Sanchez won't have a credibility issue the next time he steps into the locker room.
"I'll tell you this: If it's not all of them, the majority of our football team has a great deal of confidence in Mark Sanchez," the Jets' coach said on a conference call to introduce new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. "When he walks through that door, his head is going to be held high, there's no question about it.
"That's what I know," Ryan continued. "An anonymous source, or whatever it is, doesn't speak on behalf of our entire football team. Believe me, there's a lot of people that I know specifically -- a ton of our players and everybody in this organization, in my opinion -- that have a great deal of belief and respect for Mark Sanchez."
The Sanchez crisis escalated Wednesday, when a New York Daily News article quoted an unspecified number of unnamed players that bashed the third-year quarterback. One player said Sanchez was "lazy." Since then, several teammates have defended Sanchez publicly. Sanchez has yet to comment.
It was the latest controversy for the Jets, who finished a disappointing 8-8 amid locker room discord. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes jawed with teammates in the final game and was benched, a Holmes-Sanchez rift became public knowledge and Ryan admitted he did a poor job of handling the turmoil.
Even rookie quarterback Greg McElroy piled on, telling an Alabama radio station the locker room was "corrupt" and filled with selfish players. A team source told ESPNNewYork.com there was an offense-defense rift, with defensive players overheard in the cafeteria whispering negative comments about Sanchez.
Ryan, speaking to the beat writers for the first time since his end-of-the-season mea culpa, was noticeably more upbeat than the day after the season-ending loss. He vowed to restore team harmony, using the word "excited" several times.
"It's the biggest thing we can fix, but I also think it's the easiest thing we can fix," he said. "When I look at the things we can fix in a hurry, that will be the No. 1 thing. ... We have to bring our team back together and get that closeness we had in the two previous years."
General manager Mike Tannenbaum said he and Ryan met with 25 to 35 players in exit interviews, trying to determine the root of the chemistry issues. Here's where it could get tricky: Ryan never has admonished players for speaking their mind, but it sounds like he's preparing to crack down against leaks.
"We encourage players to express themselves, but saying things and not putting your name on it, that's not being a Jet," he said sternly. "That's going to change without question."
Tannenbaum said they want to "fill the locker room with gym rats" -- as opposed to regular rats? -- and Ryan reiterated that he will tweak his approach, becoming more of a hands-on coach in an attempt to regain the pulse of the team.
"I need to be in the locker room, involved more in meeting rooms," Ryan said. "I got away from that, thinking a head coach is supposed to act a little differently, and it hurt me. ... I misjudged it, and I've taken full responsibility, and it will not happen in 2012."
But, in his next breath, Ryan contradicted himself, saying, "I need to be myself and stay true to that."
One thing hasn't changed: Ryan's bravado.
"I have a great deal of confidence in me," he said.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.