Published May 03, 2013
NEW YORK – Rex Ryan looked out the window at the Manhattan skyline and a little bit of the brash and bold New York Jets coach from a few years ago slipped out.
The declarations and guarantees don't come nearly as often as they used to because Ryan says he has learned a few things over the years. Deep down, though, he insists he's still the same guy he has always been.
No matter what people say.
"Don't kid yourself," Ryan said in an interview Friday at The Associated Press' headquarters in Manhattan. "I know what I want to accomplish here. I came here not because it was the easy choice, but because it was the right choice. I want to be here and I want to be a world champion as the New York Jets head coach. That's never going to change.
"That drives me."
Ryan made the rounds Friday, mostly to television outlets, to celebrate his one-year anniversary of losing 100 pounds after Lap-Band surgery in March 2010, discussing how the procedure, finding the right doctor and changing his eating habits have helped him. Gone is the guy who used to stalk the Jets' sideline at a scale-tipping 348 pounds just a few years ago.
"Yeah, I've got the gray hair, but I feel fantastic," he said with a smile. "I was always a pretty positive person. Now I know I can have everything."
He wants that to include on the field — and with the Jets.
The thing is, those two straight trips to the AFC championship game are a distant memory. The Jets fell apart last season, finishing 6-10 and labeled a "circus" by many, sending Ryan's future into uncertainty. General manager Mike Tannenbaum was fired the day after the season, and many assumed Ryan would be, too — a complete housecleaning.
But then owner Woody Johnson came to Ryan's office and told him he was sticking around.
"I wasn't surprised that I came back," Ryan said. "The way I look at it, Mr. Johnson knows what he has in me. He's got a guy who's all in and would do anything for this franchise, and is committed that way. I was a New York Jets fan and when I say this is the only team I want to coach, that's a true statement. I don't want to coach another team. I look at it as, 'Hey, this is my team.' I'm a New York Jet.
"Mr. Johnson knows how bad I want this, and I know our fans want this, too."
Still, Ryan is no longer the overwhelming fan favorite he was a few years ago, with many placing blame on him for the Jets not taking the next step the past few years.
Some say he stubbornly put too much faith in Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback.
Some say he and his staff mishandled Tim Tebow during the backup quarterback's miserable year in New York.
"The one thing that's fair to say is that it's my responsibility that we never had the success that we envisioned with Tim, and he didn't either," Ryan said. "I wish him the best, he's an outstanding person and an outstanding competitor. But that's now all in the past."
And some say he's a better defensive coordinator than he is an NFL head coach.
"I should be a better coach now than I was four or five years ago," Ryan said, "and I think I am."
As the losses started stacking up the last two years, some fans started tuning out Ryan. And the danger, some speculated, is that the players could, too.
But Johnson is confident Ryan is the man to bring the Jets back to prominence on the field, hiring general manager John Idzik with the provision that his coach was already in place. That's a shaky proposition because most incoming GMs prefer to surround themselves with their own people — including the coach. Some have labeled Ryan a "lame duck," a placeholder for whomever Idzik decides to hire next offseason.
"I'm not going to worry about outside perceptions or anything else," Ryan said. "My focus is on the job at hand. It's not about being a 'lame duck' or being whatever."
Ryan has also not been offered or discussed a contract extension by the Jets.
"Look, I have this season and I have one more season left on my contract," he said. "If Mr. Johnson says, 'Hey, you know what? Let's do something,' then that will be addressed at that time. Right now, the time is for this: Let's get this thing going and put all of our energy into this season."
While he may look different, down 115 pounds since his weight-loss surgery, the 50-year-old Ryan insists he has never been asked by Johnson or Idzik to tone down his ways.
"Not once," Ryan said. "No, because you know what? You can't change. I'm going to be who I am, but I can learn from things. I'm always going to be true to my personality and true to myself, but you also learn. You can't buy experience."
The Jets parted with their best player a few weeks ago, trading Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay, and they cut Tebow on Monday. They have also lost several other key players to free agency during the last few months, giving Ryan a new-look roster to work with in a season that could affect his long-term future with the franchise.
"It's the same exact way I felt when I was hired, that here's an opportunity that I have in front of me that I've been blessed with," Ryan said. "It's Year 1 again, and I'm ready to go and I don't look at it any other way."