Part of the reason for the Jets to do HBO's "Hard Knocks" over the summer was to make Florham Park, N.J., a destination for NFL players.
Turns out, they could've saved themselves the hassle.
None of it was necessary, because the star of the series, Rex Ryan, is the greatest recruiting tool the star-crossed franchise could ever hope for. And his team's topsy-turvy, roller-coaster, reality show of a 2010 season -- next episode: The AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh -- is shining evidence of that.
By now, the panic-button in Jets Land has been jammed down so many times by the fan base, it probably isn't working anymore. Which is OK, because it isn't needed. Left standing is the team itself, solid as ever behind a coach that has made himself and his players a target that has yet to be shot down.
How has Buddy's son pulled it off? Well, above all else, he understands the modern NFL player and finds a way to embrace all that goes with that, while also ingraining a sense of accountability throughout the team. A 4-1 playoff record in two seasons provides proof that he has struck that balance perfectly.
"He realizes that it doesn't have to be about players vs. coaches," said defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, an ex-Raven whom Ryan pounced on when he was available mid-season. "I think the job description of a coach has been to point out faults. But moreso, his mindset is to point out the good things you did. He points out those more than the faults. Even when you do something wrong, it's not quite as loud, but you hear him loud and clear.
"But when it's something good, he makes the world out of it. Even the smallest little thing, no matter who it is, he makes the biggest deal out of it. And that makes you wanna play for the guy."
Pryce cited the team meeting room -- which features pictures of every player on the roster -- as an example of the togetherness that has bred. Everyone, even when the picture of the Jets has looked like a chaotic mess of finger-painting by a 5-year-old, has pulled in the same direction.
And something of a seminal moment arose in mid-December, when the infamous videos that allegedly featured Ryan and his wife surfaced.
The world laughed. The Jets sneered. And 17-year veteran Tony Richardson, perhaps the most respected player on the team, saw fit to address the locker room. It was time to rally around Rex.
"We were all thinking it," Pryce said. "But when he said it, it was like, 'OK, as long as we're all on the same page.' He does so much for his players, as far as confidence and as far as actually wanting to come to work, I've never seen anything like it... Tony's been around a long time, he thinks the world of the guy, too. We were all thinking the same thing, it just took a guy that's been in the league 17 years to say it."
Of course, this isn't a high school team. The Jets are winning this January, just like they won last January, because they're built to play the type of game that is played at this time of year.
But the series of firestorms that ensued over the course of the season (some were, indeed, self-created) might have pulled apart a team that wasn't bound the way this one is. And it's a credit to Ryan that they are that way.
It's also why general manager Mike Tannenbaum felt so comfortable bringing in players who fell out of favor elsewhere, like Santonio Holmes or Antonio Cromartie, in the offseason. Tannebaum told me back then that Ryan's ability to handle all personalities was vital to pulling the trigger on those trades. The results now are obvious, with the team's backing of its coach serving as Exhibit A.
"We've had each other's back, no matter who it was. People do things, they make mistakes, but that doesn't define who they are," defensive back Dwight Lowery said. "We knew Rex would have our back if that was one of the players or anybody else in that situation, so we took his back as well."
Ryan backs up talk
And that's because, Lowery continues, Ryan has become who the Jets are, and each player is a part of that.
"How we play and what you see on the field is a reflection of Rex. It's a full reflection of him. How physical we play, having fun, everything you see us do on the football field is him."
It'll be interesting to see if Ryan's style sends owners scrambling in the future to find their own swaggering, unapologetic leader, and create a similar type of University-of-Miami-meets-the-pros ethos in other locales.
Whether that happens or not, it's clearly working for the Jets. The team that Ryan inherited was used to playing second fiddle to the Giants on the back page and the Patriots in the AFC East. The team he has now is clearly not about to accept being "Little Brother" to anyone. On that, the Jets are on the same page, like they are with so many other things, with Ryan being the glue.
"Only special coaches can do that, and he's one of those special ones," said Ryan's best player, Darrelle Revis. "He's like a player-coach. He can talk to you about anything. It doesn't even have to be football, it can be about family, kids, it really doesn't matter. He's that type of guy that can sit down and talk about anything you're going through. ... We can call him dad, call him uncle. I mean, the bond is great."
That much was clear after Sunday's win, the biggest of the Ryan Era in New York.
With the dust having settled, and emotions having cooled, linebacker Bart Scott, another ex-Raven, made his way from the locker room to the bus, the last Jet to leave the grounds they'd just conquered. Scott made plenty of points, running an interview gamut that felt like a marathon, but in a quiet moment near the end of the evening he had a final point about his team to drive home.
"This week was about believing in yourself and believing in the man next to you, and getting your coach's back, a coach that takes more flack (than he deserves)," Scott said. "I'm so tired of seeing people taking shots at him. It's one thing to criticize his coaching ability, his time management, but when people go at his weight, stupid stuff like that? I've never seen anyone go at (Mike) Holmgren, never seen anyone go at Romeo Crennel, never seen anyone go at Andy Reid.
"But everyone thinks his weight, and that type of stuff, is comical. It's free game. You don't see that on the back page about other people. What part of the game does that have to do with anything? Judge the man by what he does in his profession. I can look at anybody and find something to criticize physically."
I said to Scott, then, that it seemed like the coach meant a lot to him.
Scott, now about to board the bus, responded simply, "I love him."
And he's not alone in that sentiment.