FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Rex Ryan already delivered his famous "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings" line before last season, so he couldn't possibly come up with something to top that one in advance of Monday night's showdown in New England.
Or could he?
Monday afternoon, as Ryan began preparations for his fourth game against Belichick, the coach sounded yet another braggadocious note when we discussed the Patriots' three-time Super Bowl-winning coach.
When I mentioned to Ryan that in the wake of his "kiss Belichick's rings" quote from June 2009, he almost seems to have backed off with his frequent references to how much he respects the Patriots' coach, Ryan insisted that he isn't backing off and indicated it is just the opposite.
"No way, because I didn't [back off]," Ryan said after his news briefing. "I just told the truth. I came here to win. As much as I respect and admire Bill Belichick, I came here to kick his ass, and that's the truth. That's just the way it is."
So for all the bouquets Ryan threw Belichick's way Monday - he brought up Belichick unsolicited during his news conference and spoke of how much he admires him - there remains a burning desire in Ryan to beat him for a third time in four meetings. In fact, there might not be a coach he wants to beat more than Belichick.
"I came here to beat him, and I'm never going to backtrack on that," Ryan said. "I do respect him and all that, absolutely. But he's the one to beat. I recognize that he's the best coach in football, and he still is. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to try to go beat him, because you're darn right I'm trying to beat him, without question. He's going to get my best."
Ryan really does have tremendous respect for Belichick, if for no other reason than Ryan considers him the NFL's best active coach, if not one of the best in history. But Ryan also believes that he eventually will achieve the kind of success that makes Belichick a future Hall of Famer.
"I came to win my own [Super Bowls] here, and whether he's coaching or not on the other sideline, that's what I came to do," Ryan said. "Do I respect and admire him? Absolutely."
The respect comes in part from how similar their career arcs have been. Each man is the son of a coach - Belichick's father, Steve, was an assistant at Navy and Ryan's father, Buddy, was a renowned NFL defensive coordinator and then a head coach in Philadelphia and Arizona.
Belichick and Ryan are terrific defensive tacticians. Belichick helped the Giants win two Super Bowl rings as defensive coordinator; Ryan was the Ravens' defensive line coach for a title run and was a highly respected defensive coordinator in Baltimore before being hired by the Jets.
The biggest difference is Belichick's spectacular run as a head coach. Since 2001, he has led the Patriots to four Super Bowl appearances, three titles and the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. In Ryan's only full season with the Jets, he led them to the AFC Championship Game, and now he is off to the best two-year start ever among Jets head coaches (20-10). But he's three titles behind Belichick.
Ryan believes that time will bear out his inner confidence. "He was recognized as the best defensive coordinator going, and if I wasn't recognized as the best, I certainly was in the discussion," he said. "I don't have to take a back seat to anybody when it comes to coaching defense. Our goals are all the same. He wants to win and I want to win, so we're very similar that way. Maybe the way we go about doing things might be different, but I know one thing: He's as competitive as anybody, and I think I am, too."
And those championships? Ryan says those will come his way, too.
"Being a head coach, I haven't done anything yet," Ryan said. "But I'm planning to."