FLORHAM PARK, N.J.On the really, really awkward stuff, Rex Ryan did just fine in his first public appearance since the Jets' miserable 6-10 season ended 10 days ago. On the really, really important stuff -- ya know, like the football issues affecting his team?
Not so much.
After a long weekend in the Bahamas, when he was photographed with a tattoo of his wife, Michelle, wearing nothing but a No. 6 Mark Sanchez jersey, Ryan humorously swatted away any last hint of controversy in vintage style.
"I know what you're thinking, obviously if Sanchez doesn't play better, then that number's changing," Ryan cracked. He added about Michelle: "I've been married 25 years, and through my eyes, my wife's the most beautiful woman in the world."
Firestorm over. At least as far as the tattoo is concerned.
As for the football-related issues, all that matters now is the disturbing disconnect about just where Ryan stands. Sitting alongside team owner Woody Johnson, Ryan did a stunning 180 on how he views offense, where he thinks he has failed as a head coach and why he looked at yesterday as his first day on the job.
Four years after he actually got the job.
"I don't think I've done as good a job of implementing who I am throughout this team," Ryan said. Especially on offense.
A little late, no?
From the beginning, Ryan has subscribed to "Ground & Pound," a throwback to the "smashmouth" days of the 1980s when teams would emphasize the running game, play stout defense and have the quarterback manage the game efficiently. That's the formula Bill Parcells' Giants used to win two championships.
But after the spectacular failure last season with coordinator Tony Sparano, who was fired Monday night, Ryan suddenly has experienced an epiphany and is willing to ditch "Ground & Pound" and the inept Wildcat. Ryan's vision is now of an "attacking style," the kind most NFL teams already use. While his "Ground & Pound" was gasping its final breaths, more vibrant attacks such as those of the Seahawks, Redskins, Packers and Patriots were in vogue.
Faced with the prospect of being fired, Ryan finally saw the light. And Johnson has given him one more chance -- a last chance, really -- to get it right on offense. Once Johnson hires a general manager -- the hot name is Tom Gamble of the 49ers -- Ryan will assemble his offensive staff and play catch-up with a league already well ahead of the curve when it comes to attacking defenses.
"We are going to be a dangerous football team," he said. "I can promise you that. I'm going to tell you: You're not going to want to play the Jets."
Fine. He's been saying that all along. Great when you go to two AFC Championship Games. Not so great when you have lost 13 of your last 19 games.
If Ryan's lucky, he will land the most coveted offensive coordinator out there, former Chargers coach Norv Turner. Say what you will about Turner as a head coach, but his credentials as a play-caller are excellent. He might not be able to turn Sanchez around -- maybe no one can, which is why the Jets will bring in a veteran quarterback, a rookie or both in the offseason -- but Turner would be a substantial upgrade from Sparano, whose primitive offense was 30th in yards per game (299.2) and 28th in points (17.6).
If not Turner, then perhaps former Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who shepherded Joe Flacco through his first 41/2 seasons before being replaced by Jim Caldwell. There is also talk of Bengals assistant Hue Jackson, the former Raiders coach and offensive coordinator.
Whoever it is, this is the most important hire of Ryan's tenure. If he gets it right and produces a competitive offense, then he'll keep his job. If not, then the Jets will be looking for a new coach around this time next year.