If appearances matter, as they often do with the New York Jets, there looks to be a sad reality attached to this franchise ahead of the 2013 NFL season: They don't have a head coach – no matter what Rex Ryan thinks.
You don't have a head coach when someone else is picking your quarterback. You don't have a head coach when the offensive coordinator is calling plays, whether the head coach wants him to or not. Your head coach isn't seen tailgating and hanging out at college football games the day players are being cut from the team, oblivious to the negative residual impact of such headlines. In fact, the only thing we've seen or heard resembling a head coach from Ryan recently was the familiar jargon he spewed to the media Wednesday afternoon.
"We're not running from anyone," Ryan said just days before the Jets' season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, omitting the fact that NFL teams are not allowed to avoid playing teams on their schedule. "We'll show up ready to play."
One could easily segue from Ryan's statement to asking if he'll be ready to coach. But that would appear to be an exercise in futility.
Right now, instead of having a head coach, the Jets have two defensive coordinators: Dennis Thurman and Ryan.
The Jets have two individuals assigned to improve upon a defense, while ranking eighth overall and second against the pass, finished 26th versus the run, 25th in sacks and 29th in turnover differential. And did we mention all-everything corner Darrelle Revis is now in Tampa?
For a defensive coordinator, that's a full-time job. Except that's not supposed to apply to Ryan.
There's a reason the Jets have regressed into laughingstock status, and it's primarily because of their supposed head coach. Not only because of decisions he's made or the team's performance, it has also been because of a mouth that hasn't lived up to all the bloviating that's taken place over the past two seasons.
It is one thing for the head coach of a franchise that hasn't won a championship since 1969 to talk Super Bowl and follow that up by falling short in back-to-back AFC championship games. It's another thing entirely to nosedive to an 8-8 season, followed by a 6-10 debacle that was offensive to those who play offense.
Of course there was the circus known as the Tim Tebow experiment, and the arrival and subsequent departure of offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Yet, all the while, the one constant was Ryan's mouth, telling us how good the Jets were, how good they could be and how Mark Sanchez deserved our undying devotion.
Essentially, spitting in folks' faces and telling everyone it's raining.
Well, Ryan's time appears up, unless the Jets win an abundance of football games this season. But what are the chances of that happening?
"Geno [Smith] is our starter," Ryan deadpanned Wednesday, insisting Smith was healthy but adding that there was no need to designate Smith the starter past Sunday. "He's certainly much better than he was and ready to go. We realize that as a team, with a rookie QB, it certainly is going to be a challenge. Especially with [playing against] Darrelle Revis ... but we'll be ready. We have a good football team. We will be popping out of our skin to play. It's a home game. We're certainly looking forward to it."
Who can blame Ryan for feeling that way? After all, the season hasn't started yet!
But once the game begins, there are still question marks all over: Santonio Holmes' health, whether Jeremy Kerley is ready to be more than a No. 3 receiver, if new running back Chris Ivory can carry the load and what, pray tell, will Geno Smith look like?
Will Geno look every bit as sharp as the guy we saw in the Jets' preseason opener against the Lions, or will he look like the rookie who threw three interceptions two weeks later against the Giants?
The fact that nobody outside of the Jets knows the answer to that question is not the problem. It's that Rex Ryan appears to know very little and care even less, forever fixated on his defense, consequences on offense be damned!
"Rex has checked out," one former Jets player told me recently. "Anyone who knows Rex knows he sees the handwriting on the wall. We ranked 30th in offense last year, 30th in passing. And a rookie second-rounder is supposed to make up for all of that? Please. Thinking that way, what is Rex supposed to do?"
Exactly what he's been doing, actually: prepare for a good year on defense.
Just so he can remain in the league as a defensive coordinator beyond this season.