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Rex Ryan could come up big in his second time around

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on before a game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 21, 2014 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Getty Images / Jeff Zelevansky

A few minutes after coaching his final game with the Jets and a day before he would find out officially that he was being fired, Rex Ryan was asked about his situation.

"Just understand that I'm not afraid of anything," Ryan said shortly after the Jets' season-ending 37-24 win over the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, an expression of defiance flashing across his face. "I'm not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that."

As it turned out, Ryan indeed had no reason to be concerned about his future. Within a matter of days, he has gone from being fired by the Jets to being the hottest head-coaching candidate on the open market. It would be a major upset if Ryan doesn't land one of the jobs available in the current hiring cycle.

Ryan, who has not commented about his next move since being fired by the Jets on Monday morning, has drawn serious interest from the Falcons, who fired Mike Smith, and the 49ers, who parted ways with Jim Harbaugh. has reported that Ryan will meet with the 49ers on Sunday.

There is interest in Buffalo, too; Doug Marrone opted out of his contract and now is a target of the Jets. And there is support among many fans in Chicago for Ryan to take over a dysfunctional Bears team and coach in the city where his father, Buddy, was the celebrated defensive coordinator of the 1985 Bears, considered one of the best teams of all time.

Though Ryan is hot, it doesn't mean the Jets were wrong for firing him. After a 4-12 season -- his fourth straight non-winning record -- it was time to make a change. Just as it was for the Eagles in 2012 when they went 4-12 and parted ways with Andy Reid. But in a league in which second chances are routinely given to head coaches whose time runs out for one team, Ryan is about to be the latest participant in that trend.

Perhaps the ultimate example of this phenomenon is Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was fired by the Browns after the 1995 season and landed with the Patriots in 2000. Belichick has since gone on to one of the greatest head-coaching careers in NFL history and no doubt will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The only man to beat Belichick in the Super Bowl -- twice -- also got a second chance as a head coach. Tom Coughlin was fired by the Jaguars after the 2002 season, spent a year out of football and emerged as the Giants' choice to replace Jim Fassel in 2004. Coughlin has won two Super Bowl titles -- both against Belichick's Patriots -- and will enter his 12th season with the Giants in 2015.

John Fox presided over the 2-14 Panthers in 2010 and was fired by team owner Jerry Richardson. But Broncos director of football operations John Elway realized Fox was a victim of circumstances toward the end of his run in Carolina and hired him in 2011. Fox has won four straight division titles and coached in last year's Super Bowl. Sure, it helps to have Peyton Manning as your quarterback, but Fox has proved himself as a capable leader justifying Elway's faith.

Pete Carroll became the first coach in NFL history to be fired twice and then win a Super Bowl. Carroll, who was fired by the Jets after the 1994 season and by the Patriots after the 1999 season, led the Seahawks to victory over Fox's Broncos in last season's Super Bowl.

And Reid, who was hired by the Chiefs after being fired by the Eagles, presided over a stunning turnaround in 2013, rallying a team that had gone 2-14 the year before to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.

But the second-chance theory doesn't always work.

Herman Edwards lasted five seasons with the Jets, going to the playoffs three times, and was about to be fired after the 2005 season. But the Chiefs had interest in Edwards and sent a fourth-round draft pick to the Jets to essentially trade for the coach. Edwards went to the playoffs in his first season after Dick Vermeil's retirement but went a combined 6-26 his next two years and was fired after the 2008 season.

Another former Jets coach who failed on his second go-round was Eric Mangini. He was fired by the Jets after the 2008 season and hired by the Browns the following year. Mangini went 10-22 in two seasons in Cleveland before being fired.

Ryan's odds seem much better, especially with the opportunities he now has.

Atlanta could be a great landing place. The Falcons are desperate for improvement on defense, and Ryan's expertise is just what they need. With quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones already on board, Rex Ryan would enjoy an immediate -- and an immense -- upgrade on offense.

The 49ers also are attractive, but the quarterback situation is a bit more complicated. Colin Kaepernick has plenty of raw talent, but he needs the kind of handling that Ryan might not be capable of offering, given his history of "developing'' quarterbacks with the Jets.

The Bills also are interested in Ryan, but they have big-time problems at quarterback after EJ Manuel failed to develop adequately his first two seasons. There's a much better fit in Atlanta, not to mention a bigger market for Ryan to show off his big personality.

Ryan was right about not being afraid of what's ahead. The rest of his coaching career looks awfully promising right now.

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