Rex Ryan deserves a better epitaph than he is currently receiving from his old team, a locker room that it should be noted once openly loved playing for the man and would lobby for his return in the face of mounting losses.
He was known around these parts simply as 'Rex' and while he never won a Super Bowl in his six years with the New York Jets, he also taught a franchise and an organization that suffers from a severe inferiority complex to stop kissing the rings of that team to the north. In all likelihood, Rex's name won't ever be unveiled as a member of the team's 'Ring of Honor' with his two appearances in the AFC Championship Game not offsetting a career 50-52 mark with the Jets. Yet he was a head coach who loved his team, openly shed tears for his team and took the bullet on repeated occasions for their blunders.
And he deserves to walk away with class and dignity, if only because he unlike so many of his predecessors, actually cared about what it meant to be a Jet.
See Rex in public just strolling around Morristown, minutes from the team's facility, and he was sure to be wearing something with the word Jets on it. Pick on one of his players in a headline and the next day from the podium he'd be sure to defend the honor of his roster. If someone made a mistake on the field, Rex would take the pressure and the blame on his shoulders. There was never a game that he didn't think his team could win. This was a man who bled green and white.
His loyalty was a fault and perhaps ultimately his demise after six seasons that started with so much promise and ended with so much heartache.
Last year, ask the same names in the Jets locker room about Rex and playing for him and the praise was heaped upon their head coach. They loved him and adored this player's coach. His passion for the game was always the first thing said about him but always, always the player would end the sentence by talking about how much Rex cared for him as a person. Now those same players are bashing their head coach, a man who though in Buffalo with the Bills has not taken any such shots at them. He's been critical of those comments but Rex has gone out of his way to be diplomatic in his departure from a team that gave him his first head coaching gig.
It isn't to say that Rex was perfect here and he'd be the first to admit it. That his players always referred to him by his first name and not the 'coach' moniker that is obligatory around almost every other team in the league is a sign that he was too close to his players, that the respect factor played a role in his locker room. He remained committed to some individuals – his guys – even when all wisdom held that it was time for a change. Truthfully, he was more player than coach in his approach to things.
That philosophy worked well in 2009 and again in 2010 when the team made the playoffs and was within a game of the Super Bowl each season. Those were veteran teams and Rex's lackadaisical approach worked well with a group of pro's pros. But as the team got younger he never adapted, never became the stickler this team needed. His demise was his own doing.
Despite this, he deserves better from this current Jets locker room. This was a group who espoused their love for the man and he unequivocally loved them back. It was the stuff of romance novels played out before a 53-man roster that Rex would defend to the bitter end.
Last December as the season played out and his Jets team found new ways to lose games, he stood by his players and took the fall for another a year without the postseason. Now with unabashed love wearing the red and blue of the Bills, those same players are taking shots at the same man who defended them the year before. They throw him under the bus when all he did was his very best. It may not be enough but it was his best.
And yet he continues to take the high road.