Controversial Rex shakes off criticism
FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Last year, he was the fresh-faced, big-talking, fun-loving coach who took the Jets on a stunning ride that fell one win short of a trip to the Super Bowl.
This year, he goes back to Indianapolis for a playoff rematch, but only after a far more complicated and controversial year in which he and his team were subjected to an avalanche of criticism and derision that punctuated an 11-5 season.
Through it all, Ryan insists his self-assuredness has not been shaken.
"I'm still myself, there's no question," Ryan told Newsday. "I'm as confident as I've ever been. I can't wait to coach, and I think I'm the same person, the same confidence, the same everything."
Ryan, wearing his oversized Jets sweatshirt and a hat during a break in meetings Wednesday, said that his confidence has not wavered in the face of a series of off-field incidents, most recently the surfacing of embarrassing photos and videos allegedly of his wife.
There have been suggestions that perhaps Ryan has been more subdued heading into this year's playoffs than last year, in part because of the negative publicity. But Ryan insists that is not the case.
"Me personally? I don't think so," he said. "I'm excited about it, just like I was then. I'm about 80 pounds lighter, so maybe that has something to do with it. And I think I'll be more prepared than I was last year."
As for the frequent jokes and derision about his personal situation, Ryan remains unfazed, even defiant.
"I can take everything, and I have," Ryan said in his most expansive remarks since the photos and videos surfaced two weeks ago. "Everybody questions me. Everybody said things about me or whatever. I don't care what anybody says."
Ryan said he gets through the ordeal by concentrating on what he knows best.
"You know what? I have a job to do," he said. "All that is personal. It's a personal matter. For me, my focus is on winning this football game. That's my job. That's what I'm paid to do and that's what I do."
And to those closest to Ryan, the ordeal may have even made the coach - and in some ways his team - stronger for having gone through the experience.
"We understand some of this stuff comes with the territory, and some of this can be self-imposed," said Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who also played under Ryan when he was the Ravens' defensive coordinator.
"But we understand that and we face it head on. That's what men do. Men don't make excuses. They own up to what went bad, and they move on from it. He didn't do anything illegal. He didn't do anything immoral. That's his business, and I think he understands he has a big bull's-eye on his chest."
Besides, the incident hasn't had a noticeable effect on what happens on the field. If anything, it may have brought the team closer to its coach.
"Rex gets it, he takes it, he accepts it, and it makes him stronger and makes this football team stronger because it really reinforces us against the world," Scott said.
Scott also believes there's a double standard at play with how Ryan is treated, especially compared to other coaches.
"I don't believe he deserves half the stuff he gets," Scott said. "I just watch how the media treats him, how they always want to make jokes about his weight and put stuff on the front page of the paper, and it really offends me, because I love the guy to death.
"I don't see anybody putting Andy Reid on the front page of the paper, or Mike Holmgren on the front of the paper and that being acceptable. But people are allowed to take free shots at him just because he believes in his football team. I think that's unfair."
But that's what you get with Ryan, whose freewheeling, fast-talking approach makes him one of the most colorful - and controversial - coaches in all of sports. His style makes for unlimited tabloid fodder, while his substance makes for a contending team.
A year after his last trip to Indianapolis, he hopes this team returns with a win, a return match against the Patriots and the Super Bowl run he dreams about.
"Shoot, I'm ready to go," he said. "This is my job. This is what I do."