Jets' Ryan on crying in front of players: 'I'm man enough to be me'

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan stepped to the podium and motioned for a staffer to hand him something.

It was a blue box of tissues, and the New York Jets' coach set it down in front of him.

"I've got a new sponsor," Ryan said Wednesday, fighting a grin. "The Jets have Toyota and I've got Kleenex, for obvious reasons."

Never afraid to hide his emotions, Ryan cried in front of his players during a team meeting Monday morning following a 24-22 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The story, first reported by the New York Post, has since generated both criticism and praise by fans and members of the media.

"Everything's out, and sometimes you say things to your team and you don't realize that everybody will find out," Ryan said. "That's fine and dandy. One thing I'll say is I'll be true to myself."

And that means being the guy who boldly declared he would someday lead the Jets to the Super Bowl -- something he reiterated Wednesday by saying "I believe I will be a champion here" -- and would have a team that the entire NFL would fear. He says what's on his mind, throwing caution to the wind. Even if it includes shedding some tears.

"I'm man enough to be me," Ryan said.

That means poking fun at himself -- and his players. After putting his tissue box down, Ryan took out a piece of paper and took a playful shot at Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, who took some heat for awkwardly reading from a statement he wrote before his postgame press conference Sunday.

"Let me go ahead and get this out and read my statement I had," Ryan said, smiling. "It says here New England's pretty good. Any questions? OK."

It's not the first time Ryan has gotten emotional in front of his team. He teared up after the Week 1 victory over the Houston Texans and has had several rah-rah moments with his players before games.

"If I don't fit the stereotype of coach speak or anything else, so be it," Ryan said. "I'm going to always be myself."

The Jets have lost five of their last six games after a 3-0 start, and they take on the AFC East-leading Patriots at Foxborough on Sunday. Ryan acknowledged that the team might not have the swagger it did earlier in the season, but the players appreciated Ryan showing his feelings.

"It's an emotional game, and that just showed his passion," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "If I was in that situation, I would've cried, too, man. I guess when you play a sport like this, sometimes it's shocking to see a grown man express emotion."

Left guard Alan Faneca said the moment built up quickly and surprised the players, but it left them feeling good about their coach, not embarrassed for him.

"No offense, but this isn't high school football anymore," Faneca said. "It's a fun game, but it's a serious game. It's a yearlong process and there are a lot of things that get built up and pent up. I've cried the year we won the AFC championship with Pittsburgh and went to the Super Bowl. I was bawling after the game because it was my third chance after missing it a few times. Those things build up."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick wouldn't offer a reaction, but he was asked if he has ever cried.

"I've coached 35 years, so I've probably covered most all the bases," he said, pausing amid laughter. "I think I swore once, too."

Added New England quarterback Tom Brady: "I can't ever imagine coach Belichick doing that in front of us."

While some have argued that the tears showed that Ryan cares deeply, others say it's a sign of insecurity and weakness -- that there's no crying in football.

"My response is that a couple of four-letter words come to mind first," Faneca said.

Right tackle Damien Woody said it really is much ado about nothing, and the players don't care what others outside the facility think.

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"You want to win for a coach like that," Woody said. "Whatever the perception is outside is irrelevant. It means nothing. We know how Rex feels about this team and what he was saying. That's the bottom line. If people outside of here have a misconception of what happened, then, hey, that's on them."

Many of the players also were disappointed that the scene got out to the public.

"To be honest with you, that should never have left the meeting," Pace said. "What happens in-house needs to stay in-house. That being said, I've seen head coaches cry after wins and after losses. I think they want so much for us and there's only so much they can do."

When asked if he was surprised at how big a deal the story had become, Ryan said he needed to grab a tissue and smiled.

"It's more passion than it is anything else," he said. "It's driven that way. I have a strong belief in myself and this football team. If that comes out, it comes out."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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