Rex Ryan could not resist getting back into the game, and so on the rebound he sold himself on the notion that the Buffalo Bills were an ideal fit. Ryan is a football coach, after all, and the Bills were offering him a chance to do what he does best in a division as familiar to him as an empty Super Bowl guarantee.
Ryan gets to make a boatload of money while squaring off regularly against the team that fired him, the New York Jets, and the team that tormented him, the New England Patriots. What could be better than that?
Well, this could be better (as in a lot): taking a year off after four consecutive non-winning, non-playoff seasons, punctuated by an ungodly 4-12 mess, to do a little TV and a lot of classroom work with accomplished offensive minds while becoming a more attractive candidate to a franchise with an established quarterback in place.
Ryan just took his second head-coaching job in the NFL, as first reported by ESPN.com's Adam Schefter, and he might've already gotten himself fired. Again. He lost his job with the Jets because Mark Sanchez regressed on his watch, and because Geno Smith didn't develop into half the franchise player Ryan needed him to be. The second time around, Ryan needed to hitch his ambitions to a quarterback who had already proved he could win consistently as long as he had a competent defense to support him.
EJ Manuel is not that guy. In fact, EJ Manuel is Geno Smith with a better draft profile and a bigger paycheck.
You can already hear Ryan at the podium in midseason with the 3-5 Bills struggling on offense, with their highly rated defense being betrayed by an overmatched quarterback while Rex is swearing Manuel has the tools to be a winner in the not-too-distant future. The new owners of the Bills, Terry and Kim Pegula, will get tired of hearing that faster than Woody Johnson did.
Ryan decided to take the risk, anyway, and at heart he has always been a gambling man. He knows that Bill Belichick had four losing seasons out of five in Cleveland, and that he'd lost 13 of his first 18 games in New England before he lucked into a quarterback named Tom Brady, a former sixth-round pick who got the ball only because Drew Bledsoe took that vicious hit from Mo Lewis of the Jets.
Maybe Ryan believes his luck is about to turn the way Belichick's did. Maybe after the Sanchez and Smith follies in the Meadowlands, Ryan believes he's due to catch a career-making break with his own 199th pick in the draft.
But this wasn't the smart play for a coach who can't afford to swing and miss in Buffalo. As much as Sanchez and Smith deserve their share of the blame for flaming out with the Jets, Ryan made enough mistakes with both to worry astute observers around the league that he might be a career coordinator in disguise, a Dick LeBeau with an outsized personality and a need for control of both sides of the ball.
Ryan is the one who got Sanchez hurt, more than once, by unnecessarily putting him in harm's way. Ryan is the one who hired Tony Sparano to be his offensive coordinator, and the one who kept running Tim Tebow's Wildcat up the gut and straight into a brick wall.
Ryan is the one who didn't know his old offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, had benched his star receiver, Santonio Holmes, for conduct unbecoming a professional athlete in the middle of a game. Ryan is the one who thought Marty Mornhinweg was the answer after Sparano wasn't. Ryan was the one who declined to bench his first-string, second-rate quarterback, Smith, after the kid missed a pregame meeting while supposedly taking in a movie.
So yes, the brand-new coach of the Bills had earned his reputation as a brilliant defensive strategist who spent as much time and energy on the quarterback position -- only the most important position in the sport by a country mile -- as most head coaches spend on their kickers and punters. This is why Ryan would've been better served sitting out a year, sounding smart and funny in someone's studio or TV booth while prospective employers watched, and using his free time to meet with NFL and major college coaches with a history of scoring points.
You know, the guys who understand how to identify and nurture a winning quarterback. Coaches are forever asking their players to spend the offseason working on their weaknesses; Ryan could've used the 2015 season to work on his own.
But no, he couldn't help himself. Ryan couldn't resist the lure of the coaching life and the staggering wage that goes along with it. Rex is said to have landed a five-year deal at $5.5 million a pop, which tells you all you need to know about the absurd fantasy world of professional sports.
Imagine how much the Bills would've paid Ryan if his Jets managed to go 5-11.
In the end, all of this would've worked out fine for Rex had Atlanta offered him a chance to replace Mike Smith. The Falcons have a quarterback in his prime, Matt Ryan, who has a 66-44 career record and four seasons of double-digit victories, and a young receiver, Julio Jones, who was good for 1,593 yards this year. That's the kind of personnel Ryan needed.
Only the Falcons never made him an offer, and the Bills did. Buffalo was hurting after Doug Marrone opted out of dodge, and the franchise and city wanted to be wanted again. So did Rex. He was hurting, too, no matter how often he praised the man who sacked him, Johnson, the Jets owner who might end up hiring another defensive whiz in Seattle's Dan Quinn.
Ryan was looking for love in some of the wrong places, and he found a willing partner with a defense built to fly around the field at his preferred intensity and pace. His Bills will put some hats on opponents for sure, and fans and reporters will have a lot of fun listening to Ryan as his team prepares for the Jets and Patriots four times a year.
But with no credible quarterback on his roster, Rex Ryan probably set up his second firing on the day of his second hiring. He'll need to get lucky the way Belichick got lucky with Brady in New England, and the chances of that happening are no better than the chances the Jets had of ever honoring one of Ryan's ticker-tape guarantees.