Rex Ryan’s players will tell you he’s a terrific salesman -- he sweet-talked Darrelle Revis back to the team -- but there’s one thing they won’t buy from their coach:
The notion that Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens is just another game.
Even though the New York Jets’ coach did his best Thursday to publicly downplay his first regular-season encounter with his previous team, which snubbed him for their head-coaching job in 2008, the men in his locker room know how much he wants to win.
Behind closed doors, Ryan -- always brutally honest with his players -- let them know this week he wants this game, several players said. He wants it badly.
“He has a lot of pride and he has a lot of memories there, and one memory he has is he thought he had a great shot at becoming a head coach there,” said safety Jim Leonhard, himself a former Raven. “I think it worked out for him, but he’s not going to forget. He has a lot of pride. He thinks he’s a great coach and he wants to beat those guys.”
After six seasons as the defensive-line coach and three as the defensive coordinator, Ryan was considered a logical choice to replace Brian Billick, who was fired after the 2007 season. But the Ravens went outside the organization, hiring former Philadelphia Eagles assistant John Harbaugh.
Ryan was stung. He was retained by Harbaugh as the assistant head coach, and they formed a strong working relationship, but those close to Ryan believe he never got over the hurt.
“I’ve moved on,” said Ryan, who credited Harbaugh and the Ravens’ organization for helping to prepare him to become a head coach.
In fact, the Ravens’ ownership gave Ryan a glowing endorsement when the Jets came calling in January, 2009. To this day, he has a positive relationship with his old team. In June, Ryan and several members of the Jets’ coaching staff participated in the Ravens’ annual softball tournament at their facility. It was like old times, with a lot of laughs.
Ryan showed up in a softball jersey that had “No. 1” and “Defense” on the back, an obvious reference to the Jets’ league ranking last season. That’s what you call silent trash talking, walking into enemy territory -- a place built on defense -- and flaunting.
“I wanted to make sure they knew it,” Ryan said, laughing, also claiming it was a message to the other defensive-minded teams in the softball tournament, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ryan still has ties to the Baltimore area. His oldest son, Payton, is a high-school senior, living with his brother-in-law. He spent more time in Baltimore than anywhere else in his transient life as a coach and son of a coach.
“It’s a special place and a special organization,” he said. “They had my back on a lot of things there. But this is my home now.”
Like Harbaugh, Ryan reached the AFC Championship Game in his first season. In a way, you could say there’s more pressure on Harbaugh than Ryan.
“It’s going to be something,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy I personally have a lot of respect for. He’s a friend of mine … He’s proven himself as a great head coach. It’s got to be business and we’re both going to try to win the game.”
In Ryan’s case, he believes he’s going to win every game. And this is no different.
“They know how I feel,” Ryan told ESPNNewYork.com. “They know I think we’re going to win. They think they’re going to win. The great thing is, somebody is going to be right – and I think I’m going to be right.”