WESTFIELD, Ind. – First impressions matter.
They set a tone for how others will view you and create a baseline for what should be expected going forward.
“Some guys would tell you that I am,” Ryan said. “And I’m OK with that.”
Uncompromising and unapologetic, Ryan came here to do a job. And to get it done, there's no room for timidity. The way Ryan sees it, if he makes friends in the process, great. And if not, that’s fine, too. Yet Ryan is being fully embraced by his new teammates, even though he’s barely a week into his first training camp with the team.
Just ask them.
Running back Nyheim Hines said he sits up and listens when Ryan speaks.
“I can’t describe it. You just get chills,” Hines said. “He starts talking to us, and you just look at him and go ‘OK, this guy is about to lead us to a championship.’”
Tight end Mo Alie-Cox added: “On the field, it’s just different. As soon as we break the huddle, he’s like, ‘Get set!’ He says it every single play. It’s weird to hear. But it’s been a joy to have him here.”
Ryan’s entire persona is a bit of a contradiction. He flashes that disarming, Hollywood smile that has made him an ideal spokesperson for things like golf attire. Similarly, fans have long gravitated to him because of his humility and down-to-earth nature.
At the same time, he has established a reputation for intensity that Colts players are now experiencing firsthand.
Ryan has been in town long enough for this duality to become clear. Since his trade to Indianapolis in March from the Atlanta Falcons, he has shown he can be the guy who stops teammates in a hallway to quiz them on the details of the latest offensive installation, as Alie-Cox explained, while also showing a genuine desire to learn about them as individuals and forge critical relationships.
Ryan has a rather simple way of describing this approach.
“Honestly,” he said, “I’m just being myself.”
After spending each of his previous 14 seasons with the Falcons, Ryan has never had to make an adjustment this significant in his career.
But he says the constant turnover in Atlanta in recent years prepared him for some of what he’s experiencing now. It’s made him more adaptable, and the lessons are serving him well in Indianapolis.
“You have to do it your way, otherwise it’s impossible to fake it every day, and it’ll be impossible for people to trust you,” Ryan said. “Early in my career, being around veteran guys who were authentic, guys like Todd McClure, who was a center for us in Atlanta, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, those guys really taught me a lot about how to be a professional and how to do it in different ways. All those guys are wildly different personalities. But you have to do it your way because when you’re yourself, it makes guys feel comfortable.”
So long as those guys also understand that Ryan’s fiery side will occasionally come through. A prime example can be found in a 2017 Falcons matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, during which Ryan – while under center – was overheard during the ESPN broadcast screaming at his confused receivers to “get f---ing set!”
It brought to mind a similar event, when former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning castigated running back Donald Brown for a missed assignment during a 2009 playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. In the middle of a play, Manning could clearly be heard on the broadcast screaming, “God damn it, Donald!”
Perhaps that’s why Colts receivers coach Reggie Wayne, a longtime teammate of Manning’s, recently cracked that Ryan is so similar to Manning that “it makes me almost want to throw up.”
“Hey,” Ryan said, laughing at the memory of his in-game outburst, “at least mine was before the snap.”
But this is also serious business. Ryan is 37. Time is not on his side. The 2016 NFL Most Valuable Player did not come here to coast into retirement. After averaging 6.3 wins with the struggling Falcons the past four seasons, Ryan arrived in Indianapolis with a definitive purpose. And that purpose – winning – will inform how he conducts himself.
It’s already evident in practice. The Colts are flying through their practice scripts because of the concerted difference in tempo and urgency Ryan has brought. There’s a level of seriousness in everything he does.
“We’ve never practiced that fast,” coach Frank Reich marveled last week.
Said Ryan: “Look, we’re here to set a standard in how we operate and pull the best out of each other. I expect the same from these guys too. When I need a kick in the ass, they have to let me know it. The good teams that I’ve been on have been like that. It’s the players holding each other accountable to be at their best. But I do think part of that role is that it’s not necessarily calling people out, but calling them up. It’s calling them up to a [higher] level.”
The message is a timely one for the Colts. They fell short last season after a crushing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in January’s season finale that eliminated them from the playoffs. There has been a renewed focus throughout the organization and even public demands for improvement from owner Jim Irsay.
Maybe Ryan is just what the Colts need at just the right time.
“He demands excellence, so having the presence, that energy in the building, is something that rubs off on you,” running back Jonathan Taylor said. “It [forces] you to focus because you know every time Matt comes into the building, he is going to be laser focused.”
How’s that for first impressions?