There may be more “pass the Kleenex” moments this Sunday than a “Little House on the Prairie” marathon.
It is sure to be an emotional return to Baltimore for Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who spent 10 years prior to starting his stint in New York on the Ravens coaching staff.
“It hasn’t even really hit me yet as much. I think the last time when we opened up the season, I think I was feeling it then. Now, maybe after the defeat or whatever, our focus has been on our football team and getting better. Clearly, I had 10 years there. That’s hard to dismiss,” Ryan said. “Really, they treated me great and all that.”
For a coach who admitted to crying in front of his team in 2009, expect some waterworks.
The always-affable Ryan came to the Jets one year after John Harbuagh was named head coach in Baltimore, replacing Brian Billick as the third-ever head coach in franchise history. It was a position Ryan wanted and felt that he deserved, especially after being named the league’s top assistant by Pro Football Weekly in 2006. But, Ryan stayed on board in Baltimore, despite being bypassed for the position.
And he responded by spearheading the NFL’s second best defense in 2008.
“Was I bitter about not getting the head coaching job? Yes, absolutely,” Ryan said. “But when it was determined that John Harbaugh was going to be the head coach, I wanted to be the best coach that he’s ever had under him and be the best coach that I can be, and not worry about the job that I didn’t have. That’s how I approached the job.”
Four years after being bypassed for the Ravens head coaching position, Ryan now enters his third year with the Jets as one of the league’s hottest coaches. His all-time record with the team now stands at 22-13 in the regular season and 4-2 in the postseason.
On Sunday night, Ryan anticipates being emotional about his trip back to M&T Bank Stadium, but he also has a point to prove to an organization that looked the other way when he felt he was ready to be their head coach. There’s appreciation from Ryan, who still has a handful of leftovers on that Ravens defense which he coached, but there is also a clear charge from Ryan about his desire to win.
“Whoever gave me that shot, they were going to get everything I had,” Ryan said. “Right now, as much as I love those guys, they have five defensive players that I coached, specifically. [There are] four Pro Bowlers by the way — [Terrell] Suggs, [Haloti] Ngata, Ray [Lewis] [and] Ed Reed. Then, Jarret Johnson is a great football player. I’m 100 percent committed to [the New York Jets]. As much as I appreciate my years in Baltimore, and those guys were great to me, the big reason I got this job is the way those guys played.”
When Ryan came to the Jets, he brought safety Jim Leonhard and linebacker Bart Scott along with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, defensive line coach Mark Carrier, defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh with him to New Jersey. Last year, Trevor Pryce was claimed from Baltimore off waivers and this year the Jets signed former Ravens stalwart Derrick Mason to be their third wide receiver.
But the focal point is clearly on Ryan, especially after the impact he had for more than a decade in shaping the Ravens’ success during that time. Ryan does, after all, have a Super Bowl ring from that championship team in 2000.
“I got the chance to get know him and what a good coach he was and how much I enjoyed being around him. I really learned a lot from him,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve known each other [a long time], so we were around each other and stuff and always had fun together. Then, in 2008, it was where I really came to respect him as a coach and a person. I just had a great year with him. It was a very valuable year and I really appreciate that year.”
Leonhard said he’s “really excited” about his own return to Baltimore and he isn’t sure what type of reception Ryan will receive on Sunday night. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who played under Ryan during the Jets’ head coach’s four seasons as defensive coordinator, isn’t sure what type of reception Ryan will get from the Ravens crowd, but let’s just say they won’t be passing the box of tissues.
“I don’t know what type of greeting he will get from the crowd. He’s the New York Jets head coach. We’re the Ravens. I don’t know if people are going to be standing up and applauding or whatever like that. Not the fans I know,” Lewis said. “The fans I know are going to be doing the opposite.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.