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Clearly, there's a method to Rex's madness

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on against the Buffalo Bills. (Jan. 2, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Is all this some sort of joke?

Is it a motivational ploy? Or a sales pitch?

Is it a strategy to deflect attention and thus pressure from the players?

Or is it just Rex being Rex, a blunt-speaking, fun-loving regular guy who in middle age happened to be handed a pro football team, a microphone and the attention of the New York-area media?

The only thing we can be sure about is that last part is true.

Rex Ryan is nothing if not genuine, or it would be impossible for him to pull off saying the stuff he says publicly without being laughed off the stage.

But for anyone who follows this sort of thing - from former coaches to former players to psychologists to public-relations pros - the rest of it is a fascinating case study in a unique approach to the job.

 

Dungy chimes in

In short: What exactly is Ryan up to at that podium?

Let's start with Tony Dungy - NBC analyst, former Colts coach and polar opposite of Ryan in image, demeanor and arsenal of curse words.

Like everyone else, he gave Ryan props for connecting with players and being true to his personality. But he also said, "I think there's definitely calculation behind it.''

Whoa! Tell us more.

"For years the Jets have been second fiddle to the Giants, and Woody Johnson was looking for that [attention] and I think that's something [Ryan] has played on,'' Dungy said.

"It's 'We're second fiddle. We have to blow our own horn. We have to come across with this bravado. We don't want to get lost as the other team in New York.' I think the players feed off that.''

That angle is not just about inspiring players. It's also about selling tickets and PSLs.

"Obviously, there was a marketing M.O. around 'Hard Knocks,' " said Rick Cerrone, a public-relations consultant and former Yankees media relations chief.

The cry-for-attention theory is unlikely to offend Johnson, who always has been open about Ryan's value as a promoter and entertainer.

Just Thursday he was quoted in the New York Post saying he does not fret about Ryan speaking his mind and turning the Jets into a target. Hate beats indifference any day.

"I hired him because of his personality,'' the owner said, "not in spite of it."

Ryan will get away with that only as long as he keeps winning, which is why fans most want to know whether his brashness helps or hinders the cause.

 

Bulletin-board material?

The players appear to be solidly behind him. The question is whether in rallying his troops, he rallies the opposing troops, too.

Former Jets star defensive lineman Joe Klecko, now an SNY analyst, said he admires Ryan's motivational ability, but he added this:

"I don't want to give anybody billboard material. I understand that's his M.O., and if you roll back the tape, he's his dad [Buddy].

"But as a player, I'd have pity on you if you never said anything. If you come out and tell me you're going to kick my --, I don't care who you are, I'm going to spend the day making your life miserable."

That is the delicate balancing act - talking big to boost his guys without their resenting his using his mouth to put their bodies on the line.

"Rex Ryan has been consistent, whether you like him or not,'' said former Jets coach Herman Edwards, now an ESPN analyst. "He's boastful, obviously. But he can't play. That is one thing I learned as a player . . . He can get them excited about playing, but they have to go play."

 

Rip me, not them

Ryan's greatest gift might be deflecting attention from his players, something he has done masterfully, according to Richard O'Brien, a Hofstra psychology professor who specializes in sports.

"It takes all the pressure off," he said. "If you're doing silly stuff, sometimes everybody focuses on the silly stuff and not on, 'My God, you haven't had a running game in nine weeks!' And that's great."

O'Brien cautioned that not every leader can or should follow Ryan's path. "This is part of who he is, but this isn't easy to do," he said. "You're taking all the weight of the world on your shoulders, and all the criticism."

One challenge over time, Cerrone said, will be to avoid staleness. After disclosing he is a Giants season-ticket holder and thus perhaps biased, he said, "I think the risk you run is it almost becomes like white noise or like Manny being Manny. It becomes just Rex being Rex."

The risk is magnified, he added, by Ryan being the face of the franchise. "I don't think the Maras go to bed at night and think, 'My God, Tom Coughlin's on a radio show. What's he going to say?' "

Surely nothing about being the team to beat, or being Super Bowl-bound. But that's Ryan.

"To us, he's Rex," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "He's our leader."

With Barbara Barker

and Bob Glauber

New York Sports