The old Rex Ryan is back.
In his first news conference Wednesday as the Bills' coach, Ryan was as engaging, funny and cocky as he was when the Jets introduced him to the Big Apple six years ago.
It's clear his "embarrassing" ouster from the Jets, as he called it, hasn't dented his swagger one bit. This time, however, he stopped short of delivering his trademark Super Bowl guarantee.
But that didn't stop him from predicting the Bills will reach the playoffs. "Is this thing on?" he asked, tapping the microphone, "because it's getting ready to be on."
And with that, the Bills brass got a full taste of the Rex Ryan Experience.
Ryan, who was fired Dec. 29, promised the Buffalo faithful that he wouldn't let them down this season.
"I know it's been 15 years since the Bills made the playoffs -- well, get ready, man. We're going," proclaimed Ryan, who brought former Jets assistants Dennis Thurman, Karl Dunbar, Tim McDonald, Jeff Weeks, Bobby April III and Tony Sparano Jr. with him to Buffalo.
"Hey, am I going to guarantee a Super Bowl and all that? I'll tell you what I will do," Ryan said. "I will guarantee the pursuit of it. There's no question about that."
He can win news conferences. But the real question is: Can he win games in Buffalo?
The Jets missed the playoffs the past four years and their 4-12 finish this season -- the worst of Ryan's career -- was the tipping point for owner Woody Johnson. But although Ryan was 46-50 in the regular season with the Jets, he bristled when asked why Bills fans should see him as anything but a mediocre coach.
"Because I think that they realize that I'm not a mediocre coach," Ryan fired back. "The record may say that, especially this year. You mentioned that we had two 8-8 [finishes] and then a couple losing seasons or lousy seasons, but they understand the game a lot better than you give them credit for. I'm not a mediocre coach, and anybody that thinks so, I would challenge them with that."
Ryan, who signed a five-year deal worth $27.5 million, according to NFL.com, stressed that this job is his "last shot" to make it as an NFL head coach. Starting in September, he'll have to prove his critics wrong.
But there's nothing he likes more than a challenge. Well, that and beating Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
"You guys know how I feel. Number one, there's no hesitation in this. We're not afraid of anybody and certainly not afraid of them," Ryan said. "We respect them . . . I think, maybe 10 of the last 11 years they have won our division. But, that doesn't guarantee they're going to win it next year. And it doesn't mean that we can't be the team on top."
Asked how badly he wants to face the Jets -- who lost both games this season to the Bills by a combined score of 81-26 -- twice a year, Ryan made it clear he's truly focused on taking down Belichick. "I'll be honest," he said, "it's still the Patriots that I want the most."
Ryan is inheriting a similar situation to the one he left behind in Florham Park: a good defense and a shaky quarterback situation. He said former Bills starting quarterback EJ Manuel will be given an opportunity to compete for the job, but he noted former Jet Mark Sanchez, who is under contract with the Eagles but will be a free agent, will be "under consideration" as well.
The strength of the Bills will be their defense, which produced a league-leading 54 sacks in 2014 and three Pro Bowl linemen. But, predictably, Ryan raised the stakes for it.
"We are going to build a bully and we're going to see if you want to play it for 60 minutes," he said. "Fourth in the league was probably a little disappointing. I know we'll lead the league in defense."
Ryan also interviewed with the Falcons and 49ers. According to sources, Atlanta was his top destination, but he denied his new team was his third choice. "I'm a Buffalo Bill all the way."
He also didn't waste time taking a thinly veiled shot at former Bills coach Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract Dec. 31.
"It's the most loyal fan base in the National Football League," Ryan said. "This football team deserves a loyal coach."