- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Let the record show that, on Thursday, May 31, Rex Ryan received his first "Do-you-feel-pressure?" question.
Tough town, New York. A coach slips up after two almost-championship seasons, and suddenly people are wondering if he's feeling the heat.
"Pressure? It's not a security thing for me," said the New York Jets coach, who has three years remaining on his contract. "I want to win, I want to be special. Just like the Giants were last year, I want to be special. So that's what's driving me."
Imagine that, Ryan wants the Jets to be like the New York Giants. How weird does that sound? This is a man who trash-talked the Giants for an entire chapter in his 2010 book, proclaiming the Jets the new "Big Brother" in town.
Clearly, Ryan is a humbled man. That's what happens to a coach who presides over a mutinous locker room and watches two rivals -- the Giants and New England Patriots -- play for the Super Bowl.
Ryan has issued a thousand mea culpas since the end of last season, taking all the blame for an 8-8 campaign that had the feel of 6-10. Good for him; after all, the buck stops with him.
Now the question is, what's he going to do about it? Ryan might not be concerned about his job security, but he's coaching like someone who feels a sense of urgency. Good for him. Take a look at what he has done since January, and you see a man determined to get it right.
In a few months, Ryan has changed the culture around the team. Consider:
• He hired a Law & Order coach, Tony Sparano, to take over the offense. The easy and popular choice would've been Bill Callahan, the well-respected line coach, but Ryan went outside the organization to bring in a no-nonsense coach who will instill discipline and accountability on a unit that flew over the cuckoo's nest last season.
• Ryan has backed up his promise to get more involved in the day-to-day coaching. Players say he's spending more time in meetings than he did last season. He has gone back to his roots, back to being a hands-on coach. He was so out of touch last season that he admittedly lost the pulse of the team, probably one of the reasons why the locker-room discord got out of control.
• He has placed an emphasis on speed and conditioning. Let's face it, the Jets got fat and complacent last season. At the end of the season, Ryan dropped the hammer. The new mantra is, "One step faster." They drafted for speed, and several players, mainly on defense, have dropped weight. The poster boy for the movement is Ryan himself; the coach has lost 90 pounds.
• Ryan has toned down the bravado, which is having a trickle-down effect in the locker room. The sense of entitlement -- dare we say "arrogance"? -- isn't as noticeable as it used to be. These days, players walk around the locker room wearing T-shirts that bear one-word messages: Sacrifice. Responsibility. Perseverance
No Super Bowl guarantees, not from the coach.
"I admit it, I made a mistake by saying all that stuff before," said Ryan, delivering mea culpa No. 1,001.
Look, there's no guarantee the humbled and hard-working Jets will be any better than last season's distracted group -- the whole thing could get blown up by a quarterback controversy -- but at least Ryan recognized the cracks in the foundation.
Some coaches are so stubborn they refuse to change. Others realize that change is necessary, but do it by overhauling the roster. Ryan couldn't do that; his roster is filled with guaranteed contracts, limiting his flexibility. So, basically, he's had to rewire an entire team without changing many parts -- a daunting challenge.
Their goal is to overtake the New England Patriots in the AFC East, but that won't be easy. The gap in the standings was the size of the Grand Canyon -- five games. Insurmountable?
"I think that's the perception out there," Ryan said. "I don't necessarily believe that. In fact, I know I don't believe it."
The old swagger isn't completely gone, but talk is cheap. Ryan knows that now.
Rex Ryan wants to be great. He wants to be special. Just like the Giants?!