New York Jets  

 

Rex Ryan claims he's NFL's best defensive coach -- is he right?

At 7:30 in the morning, humility is an overrated virtue, which is why I felt my pulse quicken as New York Jets coach Rex Ryan -- our inaugural guest here at NFL AM (weekdays on NFL Network, 6 to 10 a.m. ET) -- spoke plainly of his superiority as a defensive coach.


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"There is no comparison with anybody else," he said.

Once again, Ryan had violated every convention of his profession. He had entertained. He had been glib. Even worse (or better, depending on your allegiances), his proclamation seemed contemptuous of his contemporaries, most notably Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Still, Ryan claimed his argument was based on statistics, not sentiment.

"If you go back and look at the 10 years that I've been either a defensive coordinator or head coach, I think overall in that period I've ranked third in the league and never finished worse than sixth in defense," he said.

If he wasn't lying, he had left me at least a fib to prosecute. I was sure of that.

I was wrong.

Clearly, Rex is a man who, in addition to shrinking the size of his own waist, has crunched his own numbers. I don't know what 10 years he's referring to. He's been the Jets' head coach for three full seasons, and before that, served as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator for four. But across those seven seasons, his defenses have in fact finished no worse than sixth (2007 in Baltimore). No other team can make that claim. The Steelers come close, but were ranked ninth in 2006. It's worth noting that LeBeau's Pittsburgh teams have a slight advantage as judged by yards allowed. Since 2005, when Ryan became a coordinator, his teams have allowed an average of 281 yards per game from scrimmage. LeBeau's teams are at 277.4.

Nevertheless, Ryan is largely correct. (I'm left to take solace in the fact that he named Santonio Holmes a captain ...) Still, there's more to his "I'm the best" proclamation. And the more numbers he cited, the easier it was to discern his meaning.

"When you look at it and the background I grew up in -- arguably my dad is one of the top defensive coaches in the history of the game -- I think I inherited a lot of that," he said.

I recall speaking to Buddy Ryan almost three years ago, a conversation occasioned by the Jets' unexpected arrival in the AFC Championship Game in Rex's first year at the helm. The elder Ryan had just finished mucking the stalls at his Kentucky horse farm, where his thoroughbreds included a mare named "FiredForWinning" -- which he said happened in Philly -- and "FortySixBlitz," after the defense he invented in Chicago.

"He's a hell of a coach, Rex is," Buddy said.

The best in the game? Let's see him finish sixth or better this year.

In the meantime, it's enough to know why the coach of the Jets just won't shut up. The House of Ryan is proud and profane. Rex wasn't spewing facts and figures. No, in his mind, he was defending the family honor.

Follow Mark Kriegel on Twitter @MarkKriegel

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