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Rex Ryan makes his 'Hard Knocks' return tonight

For the first time in eight years, Rex Ryan is off the NFL grid.

Ryan received a pink slip in January after an uninspired two-year run with the Bills, and his prospects of getting a third big-chair opportunity may be slim. It's fair to assume Ryan will eventually resurface on an NFL sideline as a defensive coordinator (he was always good at that), but for now Ryan is doing TV work with ESPN -- an NFL lifer's version of purgatory.

On tonight's third episode of Hard Knocks, Ryan makes a cameo. Ryan is part of an ESPN Monday Night Football pre-production meeting with Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who is surprised to see the famous coach as he enters the conference room.

"What's up coach? You with this crew now?" Winston asks.

"Yeah, well now ... I'm a backup," Ryan responds.

Ryan, of course, cemented his reputation as a gregarious and foul-mouthed leader of men during an iconic Hard Knocks star turn in 2010. No other individual -- player or coach -- benefitted from the Hard Knocks cameras as much as Ryan, and perhaps the Jets fan in this author has a twinge of melancholy seeing Ryan return to the show years later in such a marginalized state.

"You have everything on this team you need to win," Ryan says to Winston. "I'm jealous, I never had a quarterback like you. Unfortunately, I got plenty of time to watch."

Hang in there, coach.

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