Rex Ryan defends Bill Belichick
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- An irritated Rex Ryan said Thursday that every game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots has been won or lost fairly, and he refuted the idea that Alabama coach Nick Saban gave a Jets defensive playbook to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"I get it, because I gave a defensive playbook to Nick Saban when he came here and spent four or five days with us," Ryan said. "One thing I know for a fact: No. 1, I think it's disrespectful to New England to say, 'Oh, they did this.' I can tell you every single game we've ever had with New England has been decided on the field."
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It's debatable how much value there is in having your opponent's playbook, but it's undeniable that Mike Pettine's comments caused a stir, Pat McManamon writes. Story
Ryan was responding to an MMQB.com interview with Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine, Ryan's defensive coordinator from 2009 to '12; Pettine said the Patriots might have a playbook through Saban.
"I don't understand what he's trying to gain by it, but that's up to Mike," Ryan said.
Ryan may have started his tenure with the Jets by saying he wasn't going to kiss Belichick's rings, but on Wednesday, after the final practice of the team's mandatory minicamp, he staunchly defended his longtime foe.
"To discredit somebody like Belichick, who is a real coach, studies his butt off, is ridiculous," Ryan said.
Pettine told Pro Football Talk the majority of playbooks are "very broad," and he meant no disrespect to Belichick or Ryan.
"It's a credit that [the Patriots] have been able to get that information," Pettine said. "I didn't mean to imply it was gathered illegally. ... To me, it's a sign of a smart team. We're not actively pursuing playbooks, but when they fall in your laps, you'll study it. ...
"We're all in the business of gathering information. If I can get someone's blueprint for how they build their offense or defense, of course I'm going to look at it."
Saban, who is on vacation, denied the report through Jeff Purinton, one of Alabama's associate athletic directors. Saban said that he didn't send Belichick a playbook and wouldn't in any situation. He added that the playbook Ryan gave him is still in his office at Alabama, and that Ryan and Belichick are both friends of his and that he would never consider doing something like that to either coach.
The issue arose earlier when MMQB.com published the interview with Pettine.
At Wes Welker's wedding in June 2012, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady bragged to Mike Smith, another former Jets assistant, that the Patriots may have a copy of New York's playbook, according to Pettine. Smith and Welker were college roommates at Texas Tech, where Smith currently serves as co-defensive coordinator.
"It didn't shock me because Rex would give them out like candy anyway," Pettine told the website. "He gave one out to Saban, and I was like, 'Don't you know Saban and Bill are pretty good friends? I have a feeling it's going to end up in New England.'"
Ryan has always spoken highly of Saban, and has spoken on at least one occasion at a coaches' clinic at Alabama. But Saban and Belichick are extremely tight; Saban was Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Browns from 1991 to '94.
What would possess Pettine to reveal such sensitive information? In the MMQB.com profile, he explains why he prefers not to have a thick playbook, saying he doesn't like to include "graduate-level information" because of the possibility it could end up in enemy hands.
"We know in places like New England, it's only a matter of time that they somehow mysteriously end up with our playbook," Pettine said.
Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said he had never heard of a playbook falling to an opponent, and wasn't sure it would necessarily help win a game.
"You got to know what you're looking at," Thurman said. "You have to decode it, but I don't think so."
When Belichick was asked about the story Thursday, he replied, "Talk to Mike Pettine. I don't know."
Ryan was clearly not happy that he had to spend the better part of his last news conference of the offseason responding to what a former coach of his said. How is his relationship with Pettine at the moment?
"It's in a bad spot right now," Ryan said and laughed. "Like, 'Really dude, seriously?' "
Ryan went on to say he was proud of Pettine for rising to a head-coaching job, in the big picture. In the short term, however, the assertion that there is some kind of gamesmanship on Belichick's part raises the specter of Spygate, when the Patriots taped Jets practice in 2007.
"I think it's disappointing because it sends a message that, 'Oh, here it goes again,'" Ryan said.
Ryan said the playbook wouldn't help much anyway since it changes every single game. The way to prepare against an opponent isn't with an old playbook but through film study, according to the coach.
The Jets have won four of the 11 games against the Patriots since Ryan started coaching New York in 2009, including a playoff win in New England. The Jets have been blocked from the AFC East title by the Patriots in the Ryan era, and the two times the team made the postseason, it was with the wild card in 2009 and '10.
Still, Ryan wouldn't hear that the Patriots had an unfair advantage for any of their wins.
"The times they beat us, they've outperformed us," Ryan said.
Former Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff worked with Pettine under Ryan and said the story didn't mean much, but Pettine's betrayal of his former head coach did. Westhoff spoke to Michael Kay on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
"I'm very disappointed in Mike Pettine for his phraseology," Westhoff said. "Rex doesn't give out a notebook like it's candy. C'mon, Mike. Take care of things in Cleveland.
"You make people angry with off-the-cuff, stupid statements. I just think that's not necessary."
Westhoff said he spoke to Ryan on Thursday and that the coach was bothered by what Pettine said. Ryan brought Pettine to the Ravens staff when he was a high school coach so that he could log video for the team. Pettine then followed Ryan to the Jets.
"[Ryan] was upset with the fact that Mike was so casual in talking about how Rex would give it out like candy," Westhoff said. "That did bother him. I think he felt like he had a good relationship with Mike; he was very helpful to Mike in his career.
"Mike's a head coach right now. Had he not been a defensive coordinator with Rex would that have happened? Probably not. He probably wouldn't have got that job and he probably wouldn't have jumped from high school to the Cleveland Browns."
Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss and ESPN.com's Chris Low
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