SI Vault
 
The Joy Of Rex
TIM LAYDEN
June 22, 2009
New Jets coach Rex Ryan, Buddy's son, is doing it Dad's way, stoking the defense, instilling passion—and firing from the lip
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 22, 2009

The Joy Of Rex

New Jets coach Rex Ryan, Buddy's son, is doing it Dad's way, stoking the defense, instilling passion—and firing from the lip

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4

Alan Faneca noticed too. A 12-year veteran who came to the Jets last season after a decade in Pittsburgh, Faneca says, "In my first meeting with Rex, he says, 'Let's have some fun.' And then in the first practice, he misjudges a drill, and we run over the time schedule, so Rex apologizes to the team. He says, 'Rookie mistake.' We're not even in training camp yet, and he's already said a bunch of things you just don't hear from a head coach."

There is a lot of that in the Rex regime. In the Jets' first team meeting, he instructed the video crew to darken the room and play a brief YouTube clip entitled The World's Longest Dead Snake, in which a camera pans the length of a supposedly deceased reptile until, in the final seconds the snake—not dead—snaps at the camera in a Gotcha! moment. "[Defensive end] Shaun Ellis just about leaped onto the guy's lap next to him," says defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

Rex got his June started by telling New York radio station WFAN that he won't defer to the Patriots, and, "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings." That fell in line with his response two weeks earlier, when it was suggested to him that the best three defenses in the AFC in recent years had been Baltimore's, Pittsburgh's and New England's. "New England?" said Rex. "How many people are intimidated by that defense?"

And last week, during the Jets' final minicamp of the off-season, Rex was drawn into a long-distance smackdown with Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, who blasted the rookie head coach for his bravado. Rex opened a formal media briefing by saying, "I've walked over tougher guys going to a fight than Channing Crowder."

Remember: This is the NFL, where "No comment" often passes for trash talk.

It is snowing sideways in central Kentucky, which is not unusual except that it's the third week in May. An hour's drive from Churchill Downs, Buddy Ryan is caring for his racehorses in a Shelbyville barn where he rents stall space. He owns four broodmares, four yearlings and six colts. They are not the type of horses bred to win the Triple Crown, but they keep a man busy just the same. Buddy, wearing a Jets windbreaker and limping because a horse stepped on his right foot a few days earlier, fills plastic feed tubs. He stops to point out a January foal he's unofficially named Jetty.

Buddy moved here with his second wife, Joanie, in 1995, after the Cardinals fired him, but retirement hasn't been easy. Joanie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2001, and two years later Buddy moved her to an assisted-living facility in Louisville. "She's not doing good," he says. "But we go to Mass every Sunday." Buddy met Joanie while coaching with the Jets from '68 through '75; he and Doris had divorced in '66, after 11 years of marriage. In the winter of 2005 Buddy fought off a case of encephalitis, but it left holes in his memory.

His legacy, however, is solidly intact. First, there is the 46 defense, which reconfigured the football landscape in the early '80s. His teams attacked the line of scrimmage with eight defenders in the box, denying the run and blitzing frequently. It was the signature of the Bears' Super Bowl XX championship team. Second, there is the deep loyalty of his players. "Buddy was one of a kind," says Doug Plank, the former Chicago free safety for whose uniform number the 46 was named and who is now a Jets assistant. "He touched players mentally and physically. You did not want to fail him." And third, there are his sons, who have carried Buddy's best traits into the next generation of the game.

The boys took a long route to get there. After their parents' divorce, Rex and Rob (and brother Jimmy, who is six years older than they are and a lawyer in St. Louis) lived for eight years with their mother in Toronto, where Doris, who had earned a Ph.D in education administration, worked at the University of Toronto.

The twins tore up Canada in their own way. They tried to play football as fourth-graders, but Doris says they were thrown off the team after one of them drilled another player too hard for the locals' tastes. A college administrator but also an Oklahoma girl, Doris ran onto the field and confronted the league president, saying, "This is a contact sport where I come from."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4