We all know the fable about the little boy who cried wolf one too many times. What about a new one featuring an NFL head coach who always says he has the best team and the Super Bowl is near, yet never delivers on his bold predictions? Unfortunately, this is no fairy tale, as that coach resides in New York and leads the Jets.
I love Rex Ryan's confidence and his willingness to put himself out in front of his team. It takes the burden of responsibility off his players. But I think his act is wearing thin and can be counterproductive. It is one thing to say you are great, but another thing entirely to actually be great.
Ryan's predictions are just an act. His press conferences are more show than substance. I get the feeling that he thinks if he does not say something outrageous, the media won't attend. He is too smart and too much of a football man to watch his squad play the past 14 weeks and really believe he has a Super Bowl-winning team. He knows the game too well to watch his safeties fail to cover anyone, or his offense not be able to execute at a high level because it's led by a quarterback who is skittish at best, and not know better. I am giving Ryan the benefit of the doubt because he has to see the flaws. Or at least I hope he does.
Al Davis, who I worked for in Oakland, always believed that, when speaking to the media, coaches should direct their message to three groups of people -- the players, the opponents and the fans. Every word should have a direct impact on all three groups, as the message being sent is vitally important. Communication through the media can be a useful tool when executed correctly.
Ryan, obviously, does not handle his press conferences this way. His players know what he is saying is not true, because they watch the same tape he does. Do you really think star corner Darrelle Revis thinks the Jets offense is Super Bowl-worthy? Revis is too smart for that. The fans in New York are too smart, too savvy to believe every word, as they can tell the difference between a good and a great team. And Ryan gives the opponents free bulletin-board material. This is where his bold predictions become counterproductive.
To me, what separates a good leader from a great one is his management of trust. The people following the leader should trust everything he says to be true, and the leader should be consistent with his approach and remain honest, regardless of the situation. This is where Ryan's act loses its effectiveness. Since Ryan takes the burden of responsibility off the players and makes them out to be better than they are, how can he tell them they need to improve? After announcing they are great, how does he walk into the team meeting and put fear into the players? Putting the players on notice for poor play will be much more effective than telling them they are great.
Ryan does not have to believe me, he just has to look at his own team's actions. The Jets play their best when their backs are up against the wall. After Ryan thought they were eliminated from playoff contention in 2009, they bounced back (with some help from the Colts) and ended up in the AFC Championship Game. Last year, after getting hammered by the Patriots in the regular season, they fought back once again and made a second straight appearance in the title game. The Jets work best when they're fueled by fear, not showered with false praise.
The Jets have major personnel issues on both sides of the ball. They are not the most talented team in the NFL, in spite of what Ryan says. Who among their front seven on defense do teams fear? The answer is no one. Does the threat of Shonn Greene scare opponents? The answer is no. They lack overall depth, which was exposed when center Nick Mangold missed extended time. And for some reason this offseason, the Jets believed the Patriots' tight ends were not going to be a problem for them to cover with their current safety situation. Clearly, they miscalculated. Instead of drafting a safety with coverage ability, or signing one in free agency, the Jets did what they love to do during the draft under the Ryan administration -- pick a runner, a receiver or a quarterback. Eight of the 13 picks under Ryan have come from those three positions.
Ryan can continue down this path of false bravado, but at what point does he become the little boy who cried wolf? At what point does he get realistic and attack the personnel issues with the Jets? It might take missing the playoffs for Ryan to get real with his evaluation of the team. And if that's the case, it would be the best thing that could happen to the Jets this season.