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Rex Ryan regrets not telling Woody Johnson that GM-coach relationship wasn't working

Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan speaks to

Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan speaks to the media during minicamp in Orchard Park, N.Y. on June 16, 2015. Photo Credit: AP / Bill Wippert

PITTSFORD, N.Y. - It is a few minutes after a two-hour-plus practice session, and Rex Ryan has just ended his daily news conference with another vintage Rex performance. This time he hams it up for the cameras for a good cause: Asked if he would eat a dog biscuit to show his support for the Erie County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Ryan happily obliged. In fact, he ate two, and then challenged his boss, Bills owner Terry Pegula, to munch on a biscuit himself.

But when the cameras stop rolling and Ryan is asked about his time with the Jets, especially the way it ended in a 4-12 nightmare season in 2014, his mood suddenly changes. The smile is gone, his eyes narrow and he points a finger for emphasis.

He is not happy with how it went down, and looking back on it now, he sees where he went wrong. He now believes he should have gone to Woody Johnson and let the owner know that Ryan's relationship with general manager John Idzik was not working and was doomed to fail.

"Oh, it was brutal," Ryan said as we stood a few feet outside the team's training camp locker room at St. John Fisher College. "I knew I had the commitment from the players and I had the commitment from the coaches. But I don't think you can say that across the board organizationally."

Ryan never mentioned Idzik by name, but it was simple to connect the dots. With the general manager and coach working at cross purposes -- Idzik trying to build for the future and likely intending to hire another coach, and Ryan coaching for his job with a woefully incomplete roster -- Ryan understood it could never work.

"I get it. I know what it means. It wasn't my first rodeo, and I knew what it meant, that they were going to move away from me and the coaches," Ryan said. "But it [ticked] me off because I thought the team was a hell of a lot closer and, if given the opportunity, we could have done something. It's behind me now and I move on, but am I hurt by it? Oh, hell yeah. I hate to [expletive] lose, and I also don't like the fact that the commitment wasn't across the board."

Ryan and Idzik both were swept out by Johnson, whose decision to hire Idzik as general manager and make him take the coach already in place failed. But Ryan blames himself for the whole thing going wrong.

Forget the fact that Idzik wouldn't spend the team's salary-cap money on top-flight players, especially in the secondary, and instead squirreled away the cap room for the future. Ryan thinks he could have solved the problem before it mushroomed out of control.

"At the end of the day, it was my responsibility and I take full responsibility for what happened," he said. "I should have handled it differently myself. If I would have done that, maybe things would have been different. But I've grown from it and I've learned from it."

So what exactly did Ryan do wrong?

"I blame myself because all I had to do was tell the man," he said. "The man wanted to win."

The man? That would be Johnson, who couldn't salvage the Idzik-Ryan relationship because he allowed Idzik to build the roster the way he saw fit. Even if that meant Ryan didn't have enough to win.

"Woody Johnson wanted to win, I'm convinced of that. But there were some things that I knew weren't right, and I allowed it to happen," said Ryan, who declined to be specific about those issues. "In retrospect, I should have just gone right to the man myself and not gone through somebody else or any other way except seeing Woody myself. Even if he would have said, 'No, we're going to do it this way,' I at least would have had my say with it."

Johnson's decision to hire coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan, who went on a dizzying offseason spending spree, is proof to Ryan that the owner wasn't the issue.

"Look, Woody, by his actions, proved that he wants to win," Ryan said. "He had no choice but to fire me. We all knew that. You win four games in this league, you're going to get fired. That's the way it should be. Woody wanted me to have long-term success, but it never happened. I wasn't the last guy hired. I'm a team person, so I'll do what's asked of me.But there were some things that weren't right and I allowed it to happen."

It is not that way here in Ryan's latest -- and what he calls his last -- head-coaching job.

"From top to bottom in this organization, we are lined up," Ryan said. "And if a guy's not lined up, he ain't gonna be here. It's as simple as that. If that means me going to the owner myself, I will absolutely do that, regardless of who it is. We are going to be on board with this football team."

No need to worry about his relationship with Bills general manager. Doug Whaley, who grew up in Pittsburgh, worked for the Steelers and first came to appreciate Ryan during his days as a Ravens defensive coach, is in lockstep with his coach.

"The basis of what we believe in as a football team are congruent," Whaley said. "And that's play good defense, run the ball and protect the ball. Those three things, from the beginning of football, have always been proven to win. So Rex and I have a great relationship. I can't speak on the Jets, but him and I, we can finish each other's sentences when it comes to football."

Ryan likes what he sees from his team, even if he inherits a murky situation at quarterback (E. J. Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor are battling for the job). He has a terrific defense, a franchise running back in LeSean McCoy, a difference-making tight end in Charles Clay and a solid offensive line.

Ryan is not making any Super Bowl guarantees, as he often did with the Jets, but there is big talk about what he believes his team can do.

Can he win the Super Bowl? "We'll see," Ryan said. "I know one thing, though. I talk about the pursuit of it. But I'll guarantee you one thing: Our team will be prepared and we will play as hard as any team in this league. We are going to be on board with this football team. Does that mean we're going to win it all? I hope so."

Welcome back, Rex.


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