Buffalo Bills  

 

Rex Ryan using lessons learned with Jets to shape Bills tenure

Print

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rex Ryan is still in the same region of the country, in the same division, walking into the same kind of situation he was in over the past six years, chasing Tom Brady with a team that seems to have everything but a counterpart for the Patriots' superstar quarterback.

So this probably all feels familiar to the 52-year-old. But there is something different this time around, something Ryan himself believes will make a huge impact.

In 2009, the New York Jets chose him to be their head coach. In 2015, he chose what became important to him.

"I've had six years of experience," he said Wednesday, a few feet away from the field where he held his second OTA session as the newest coach of the Buffalo Bills. "So am I gonna be better now? Of course. You're not gonna be worse by having experience. The other thing is understanding what's important, because the second time, I was lucky -- I got to choose where to go. The thing about that was, go to an organization where you see the direction, and it's the same direction (you believe in)."

Ryan can run you through how it happened. The trip to Florida to interview for the Buffalo job. The feeling leaving the first interview with Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, president Russ Brandon and general manager Doug Whaley. The call-back he got the next day.

But here, from a football standpoint, is what matters: He applied what he learned, good and bad, from his time with the Jets to his decision. And that's why you can hear emotion in his voice as he explains it. He has as much conviction as ever about his chance to topple Brady and everyone else in pro football.

Such a story wouldn't, as he sees it, be that unusual. Three of the past five coaches to win titles -- Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Tom Coughlin -- were fired at previous stops (Carroll twice) as head coaches. With lessons learned, Belichick and Carroll secured power that would ensure their new teams were built as they saw fit, and Belichick and Coughlin went to work for owners they knew.

With regard to each of those three cases, the point Ryan made to me Wednesday afternoon was clear: If I'm going down this time, I'm going down doing it my way.

Of course, Ryan was careful not to torch his old place of work.

"I'm not saying any of that, that's all in my past, that's so far behind me," he insisted. "It's something that I'll take, I'll learn from it. I'll tell you this: When I first got (to New York), we were lined up, 100 percent. And what happened? We had success."

But he left plenty of room to read into what he wouldn't say.

The biggest thing? Over time, the Jets became a fragmented organization, a development Ryan tacitly took some responsibility for. When things went sideways, he didn't do enough. The bleeding started shortly after consecutive appearances in the AFC title game in 2009 and '10. A paper cut became a gash that grew into a wound that gave neither Ryan nor the GM he was mismatched with in 2013 (John Idzik) -- nor a number of others -- much of a chance to survive at the end.

That chain of events, by the way, is a big reason why Jets owner Woody Johnson chose to make the changes in his building total this offseason, jettisoning both Ryan and Idzik after firing the coach (Eric Mangini) but not the GM (Mike Tannenbaum) in '08 and the GM (Tannenbaum) but not the coach (Ryan) four years later. Just the same, the experience gave Ryan an idea of what he needed to look for in his next opportunity.

"When I look back on it, I looked at when I should've been more upfront with the owner," Ryan said. "I think that was a big thing: 'Look, we got some issues, this needs to be resolved.' I knew what was gonna happen. We all knew it. But now, there's no way in hell (that happens again). If I'm going down, I'm going down swinging. And if it happens, it's gonna be, 'Here's some issues we need to fix.' And hit them head on."

That way, problems are eradicated rather than managed, which keeps them from festering. If the vision is splintered -- which seemed to happen often in New York, where so many Band-Aid fixes were applied -- that should be recognized before there's a full-blown corruption of the plan.

"You have to roll the exact same way, and we don't need anybody that's gonna be an anchor to this team or have a hidden agenda," Ryan continued. "Once you chop all that off, we're gonna be pretty good. And again, we may not get to where we wanna go -- we wanna paddle to a damn Super Bowl, everyone gets that. We may end up somewhere else, but at least we're gonna go together."

There's still plenty to figure out, of course. First and foremost, Ryan has to settle on a quarterback. And the Bills' offensive line has some issues to sort through.

As you might expect, Ryan loves his new defense, conceding it's probably stronger than the group he inherited in New York in 2009, which ranked first in the NFL in his first season there.

"The thing I like is, you're gonna have a system that's hard to prepare for, and you've got players that are pretty darn talented," Ryan said. "That's a great combination. I've been there before. I think in '06 (when Ryan was defensive coordinator in Baltimore), we were pretty decent on defense when we had (a similar situation), combining ability with scheme. Watch what happens."

Ryan's right: He has been here before, in more ways than one.

If he finds a way to win with Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel under center, well, remember, the Jets went 5-1 down the stretch in 2009 despite rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez averaging 130.6 yards per game and posting a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2:4 (Sanchez missed one of those final six games with a knee injury). It would be hard for the Bills to top what Ryan's Jets team did in his first three years there, even if the Buffalo defense flourishes. But if the guys on the team follow Ryan, that'd pretty much match the pattern he's established wherever he's been.

Ryan knows now that the difference has to come in sustaining whatever success he has, and he thinks the lessons learned the last six years will get him there. He gained belief in his new roster, in part, by virtue of the Bills sweeping the Jets last season. He's aligned with Whaley philosophically, in part because they come from opposite ends of the old streetfight of a rivalry between the Ravens (Ryan was on Baltimore's coaching staff from 1999 to 2008) and Steelers (Whaley worked in the Pittsburgh organization for 11 years). Ryan said he also lines up with the business side, ownership and even the fan base, having spent eight years of his childhood in Toronto.

In the end, that's why he said he picked this place. Looking to avoid the cracks he saw in New York, Ryan found his new foundation with the Bills.

While that alone won't guarantee much, it will likely give him a better chance over the long haul.

"We all want the same thing," Ryan says. "We wanna win and we're willing to do whatever it takes to get there. We see it. We know the direction that we need to take. There's no hidden agendas. There's no whatever. This is how we're gonna do things, and we're gonna get it done. We won't compromise, and we will make sure people are on the same boat, paddling in the same direction."

And if it doesn't work this time, there is a consolation there.

It won't be hard to figure out just who to blame.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop