Namath thinks Rex runs too loose a ship

Former New York jets quarterback Joe Namath smiles

Former New York jets quarterback Joe Namath smiles on the sidelines before the Jets football game against the Houston Texans. (Sept. 13, 2009) (Credit: AP)

As kickoff nears for the biggest Giants-Jets game in the 42-season history of the rivalry, Joe Namath is hopeful that his old team can beat the Giants, reach the playoffs for a third straight year and win a championship for the first time since Namath led the Jets to their only Super Bowl title nearly 43 years ago.

But the legendary quarterback, who still keeps close tabs on the Jets from his home in south Florida, is troubled by a lot of the things he sees from his favorite team.

During our 80-minute telephone conversation Thursday morning, Broadway Joe vented about why it bothers him that Rex Ryan never publicly criticizes his players, why he was furious at Santonio Holmes for celebrating his touchdown during Sunday's blowout loss to the Eagles, why Mark Sanchez doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves, and why this team just isn't as good as it was the last two years.

"I find [Ryan] hard to believe," Namath said. "It's like every player on the Jets is the best player in the league . . . I can see patting guys on the back, but I have a hard time believing him. When somebody continues to say, 'To be honest with you' or 'To tell you the truth,' well, then what . . . have you been telling me?"

Namath, 68, said Ryan's style started bothering him earlier in the season, when the Jets lost to the Raiders and safety Jim Leonhard, now on injured reserve, said the players weren't ready to play. That comment set off something in Namath, he said, and to this day, he believes Ryan's frequent compliments about his players in some ways do more to hurt than help the team's preparation.

"I've never critiqued or said anything negative [about the Jets] prior to this year, but Jim Leonhard's remark saying they weren't ready disappointed me and I was upset because of [Ryan's] approach. He's always patting them on the back, saying he has their back and they have his back, like Santonio Holmes this week. That's personal because I still get angry with myself if I wasn't ready for games and didn't approach them with the kind of urgency that's necessary.

"I understand you want your workforce to believe in the leaders and how do the leaders convince them to believe what they say," said Namath, who comments regularly on the NFL on his website, broadwayjoe.tv. "But great coaches over the years weren't always liked by every individual on the team. Coach Ryan, he's a friend to all of 'em. Well, not every coach is a friend to all of 'em. I think Coughlin is a hell of a coach, and I don't know that all of his players have loved him over the years. Same with Bill Parcells."

Namath was particularly bothered by Ryan's defense of Holmes after the receiver's antics during the second quarter of the 45-19 loss to the Eagles. With the Jets trailing 28-3, Holmes caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and celebrated by placing the ball on the ground and mocking the Eagles' "fly, birds, fly" celebration by flapping his arms. Because he used the ball as a prop, Holmes was assessed a taunting penalty, and the Jets were penalized 15 yards on the kickoff.

Namath said he was furious when he saw the play, and was just as upset that Ryan didn't criticize Holmes for it.

"When you see someone blatantly breaking a rule, knowing what the rules are, that's selfish. That stinks," Namath said. "How can you dare do that? A guy rehearses this thing, rehearses the dance. You're doing that, getting a 15-yard penalty when you're getting your ---- kicked by 20-something points. Who are you? I hate to see something like that."

Namath criticized Ryan's defending his players the next day. "I can't see a guy beating his chest when he's getting his ---- kicked. But that's the way they run their ship. That's coach Ryan's style and belief."

Some strong stuff from the iconic quarterback, whose opinion still matters to a lot of Jets fans more than four decades after he won the team's only Super Bowl. It matters to Ryan, too, especially because he knows Namath's place in Jets history.

"Joe Namath is awesome," Ryan told me Thursday. "My dad [Buddy], who coached here for eight years and he coached defenses forever, said Joe was his favorite player ever. When you think of the Jets, you think of Joe Namath."

But Ryan defended himself against Namath's pointed criticism and even took a jab at the former quarterback.

"You look at his Super Bowl MVP -- even though I thought it should have been Matt Snell," Ryan said, referring to the former Jets running back, who had 121 rushing yards and the Jets' only touchdown in a 16-7 upset of the Colts. "But either way, Joe Namath is awesome, and he can criticize me all he wants.

"My thing is I'm always going to be myself, regardless of how many critics I have, whether they're people in the media, whether they're former coaches, former players, whatever. And I've never had a problem in my life with dealing with players. Nobody knows what happens behind closed doors, but I'm comfortable being me and I'm not going to change. At the end of the day, I've always been successful, and I'm sure I'll be successful in this endeavor as well."

But Ryan knows that until he wins a Super Bowl, he'll be subject to criticism. Especially from the most important figure in franchise history, who is to the Jets what Babe Ruth is to the Yankees.

Namath wants to believe that Ryan can do for the Jets what no one else has done since the quarterback wagged his finger to the sky at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 12, 1969, signifying the Jets were the No. 1 team in pro football.

But he has his doubts.

"Talk is cheap," Namath said. "Players don't like to use the fear factor, but the pain of losing, you feel should be ugly enough to where you're determined to avoid it."

The challenge of coaching, Namath said, is to create that fear. And he thinks Ryan doesn't do it nearly enough.

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