Rex Ryan believes the Jets can be better this season than many expect, for a classic Ryan-esque reason: defense.
And remember, he knows from personal experience with the Jets that sometimes that is enough to go far in the NFL.
“They’ll have a chance in every game because their defense is so good,” said Ryan, who is set to begin his rookie year as an ESPN analyst. “Let’s face it, we went to two [AFC] championship games with an average quarterback [in Mark Sanchez] — or below, you know, not being nice. So there are different ways of winning.
“But a good way to do it is to have a good defense. Obviously everybody prefers to have the great quarterback. That makes your job easy, but unfortunately if you don’t have them, which most teams don’t – or at least half, or at least the teams that I’ve been on have never had that – you have to find different ways of winning.
“They have a good start because they have an outstanding front seven, definitely the defensive line.”
Ryan spent the past eight seasons coaching in the AFC East with the Jets and Bills, and now that he is out of the division, he expects the overall result to be the same: no one will stop the Patriots from another first-place finish.
“I think [other] teams can be competitive, but with New England, I don’t see that,” he said. “The fact [Julian] Edelman got hurt, that’s going to balance it out a little. But no, I don’t think so.”
Ryan’s primary role for ESPN will be as a studio analyst, but the network will deploy him in its game booth for the second game of a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader on Sept. 11. He will work with Beth Mowins as the Chargers face the Broncos.
How does he expect his new career to go? “I’m going to dominate,” he said, laughing.
But seriously, “Shoot, you know, there’s more to it obviously than you think. I’ve been coaching for 30 years. I’ve been a fan of football forever, but it’s when to speak, when you’re not supposed to speak, all those types of things. How you handle replays. The tough part is when I was at the practice games, I was expecting to see a certain replay, but they showed something else. I think it should be a little easier when I’m basically the guy running the replay.
“But I’m looking forward to it. It keeps me involved in the game. It does feel strange, though. I’m not coaching for the first time in 30 years. You are not teaching or anything. I definitely miss it. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the competition. So we’ll see how it goes.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for me to see what it’s like to do color commentating and then having that ‘Sunday Countdown’ show, but we’ll see if I’m any good at it. We’ll see if I like it. We’ll see if they like it.”
It sounds as if Ryan, 54, expects to coach again, but there are those who left the business for TV and never went back – from John Madden to more recent converts such as Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden.
“I think we’ll see how it goes,” Ryan said. “That’s why the good thing is I have a whole year to see if I like this. Let’s face it: The one thing about it is you don’t lose [games]. As I look at that there are some real positives to it, but at the same time I think I definitely miss the coaching.
“But hey, if this goes well then maybe I’ll enjoy it as much as I do coaching. I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out as the year goes on. There are other guys that have done it. [Fox analyst] Jimmy Johnson once told me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to get one of these deals.’
“It’s a heck of a lot less stressful. Somebody asked me, ‘Do you feel stress about doing this game and all?’ and I said, ‘What? No!’ I don’t. Maybe I need to.”
Ryan said working with Mowins, the first woman since 1987 to call an NFL regular-season game on television, will ease his debut.
“I’m as green as grass, man,” he said. “The good thing is she’s a real pro. She’s done it forever and thank goodness. Obviously, she’s going to have to cover me. But I’m going to let it fly, I can tell you that much.”
Ryan said he does not expect to watch the Jets-Bills opener the day before the Monday night game. “I think I’ll pass on that one,” he said.
But he will be called upon in the studio to express opinions about his former teams and others.
One trick will be learning to speak more in sound bites in the studio than in the game booth, where there is more time to talk. That’s the theory, anyway.
“I’m going to keep the studio the same anyway,” he said. “They’re going to have to cut me off. Hey, that’s OK. They told me to be myself, so that’s what I’m going to show up and be. If they cut me off, they cut me off.”