Rex Ryan defensive, defiant entering make-or-break season

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Rex Ryan doesn't care what you think of him.

He knows he's made mistakes. And the Jets' coach has paid for them the past two seasons. But the defiant Ryan expects to have the last laugh.

"I'm a hell of a lot better football coach than I'm given credit for," Ryan said in a sit-down interview with Newsday, minutes after the team concluded its final mandatory minicamp practice Thursdayafternoon.

"I don't care," he added with a smile. "I don't need the credit. But I can tell you one thing, when it's said and done, they'll look back and say, 'Oh man, this dude can coach his butt off.' And you know what? It's true. And I'll let the people that know best talk on my behalf about the kind of coach I am.

"I don't have to brag, even though statistically, I can brag about anything I've ever done defensively."

Now, he just needs to figure out how to get his team back on track.

Ryan repeatedly has said he's going back to basics in Year 5 -- taking a hands-on approach again with the defense. But this time, Ryan said he has the benefit of experience.

"I know what works for me," he said.

Last season, he made a conscious effort to be more involved with the offense, even sitting in on meetings with former coordinator Tony Sparano. But although his presence was being felt behind closed doors, Ryan said his message may have been getting lost in translation.

"Maybe I let someone else drive the message instead of me," he said. "And I think the first year, it was clear who was driving the message. It was me.

" . . . But one thing I learn for sure every year is that I can have a presence on this entire football team even if I'm primarily on one side of the ball. We lost a little of my mentality when I was sitting in the wrong room."

In 2009, Ryan led the Jets and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to the AFC Championship Game. Against all odds, he achieved the same feat a year later.

"We were loaded," Ryan said, rattling off the names of former players Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Shonn Greene, Damien Woody and Alan Faneca.

But since then, "Play Like A Jet" has come to mean something entirely different, thanks to 8-8 and 6-10 finishes the past two seasons and Sanchez's infamous butt fumble against the Patriots in prime time.

"I'll never be able to erase that year," Ryan said, referring to 2012. "But I can learn from it. That unfortunately is going to be with me. It drives you to the point where you say, 'Look, I've learned.'

"And some way that might work for every other coach in the league -- 99 percent of them -- it doesn't work for me. I know what works for me now. How it will affect our team, result-wise, win-wise, all that stuff, we'll find out. But I'm certainly confident that I can help this team more in the capacity that I'm going to lead."

Ryan has vowed to stay clear of the offensive meeting room ("I will not be in there," he repeated). But he won't hesitate to interject his opinions of new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's offense.

"Don't think for a second that I don't know what we're doing," Ryan said. " . . . Marty knows what I want. We're on the same page."

That's good to know, considering all eyes will be on Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. The Jets have yet to decide who will run it -- Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith -- and there still are questions about the health of their receivers. After the offense finished 30th overall under Sparano last season, Ryan knows it must improve dramatically.

While discussing the Jets' struggles in recent seasons, Ryan bristled at the assumption he was hopelessly devoted to the ground-and-pound game.

"When you really look at it, ground and pound was one year," he said. "That was what it was. It was the first year. But we talked about it forever, but that's not the case."

Ryan said at the time of Sparano's hiring in January 2012 that they were "definitely like-minded people, like-minded coaches, and we believe in running the football and protecting the quarterback." Yet Ryan insisted the Jets' offensive game plan has been far more balanced over the years.

"I want to run the football. Of course," he said. "But that worked for us [my first season]. The next year, it wasn't even close to that. It wasn't even close. Just like on defense, we'll be multiple and we'll play to our talent. We focus on what our players can do. But I was saddled with that [ground-and-pound label]."

But with Mornhinweg's system, which emphasizes taking shots downfield, Ryan said there's no doubt about what the Jets will do this season.

"We're going to attack you," he said. "Whatever that means, people will find out."

So 2013 is a new slate, not only for the offense, but also for Ryan. Armed with knowledge from the past four seasons, he's determined to get his team back on track. His way. On his terms. Just like in Year 1.

"I've never been just a defensive coordinator since the day I came here," he said. "No, this was my football team and it was going to play to my personality. And that's exactly what it did.

"But even defensively, that fell off a little. And when I look at those tapes, I'm not proud of what's there. I am not proud of that whatsoever. So when I look at that, I'm like, 'Oh, it's not happening again.' I don't know what our record will be, but you're not going to want to play us."

And he has no doubt Jets fans will look back fondly on the Rex Ryan Era when all is said and done.

"They'll say, 'He's a hell of a football coach, and you know what? He had more passion than anybody who's ever coached here before.' Eventually that's what's going to be said about me," Ryan said.

"And hopefully it's not for another 15 years."

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