Usually when the words “shrink” and “Rex Ryan” are linked together, there is a lap band joke close by. But after Joe Namath’s stinging comments directed at Ryan and his team on Monday during a radio appearance, a shrink might be needed to get these two characters together again. At the very least, couples therapy might not be a bad idea.
Namath, whose comments were made this past Monday on ESPN 1050’s Michael Kay show, pulled no punches in calling out the Jets for their flat performance in a game where they got worn down by the Raiders. Saying that “It starts at the top,” Namath questioned the constant positive vibes from Ryan, known as the quintessential players coach.
"Coach Rex Ryan, I think has been doing a great job getting the team to two [AFC] Championship games. But if there's one thing about the athlete, if you keep telling him how good he is, he's going to start believing it, to the point that he may not be preparing not quite the way he should,” Namath told Kay. “He may be losing some respect for the other team."
Dr. John Murray is one of the nation’s preeminent sports psychologists and author of The Mental Performance Index. He had the chance to examine the transcript of both Namath’s remarks and Ryan’s response to “Broadway Joe’s” commentary, including his Monday press conference. After some analysis, Dr. Murray didn’t see Namath’s comments as anything other than “reactive” in nature.
“Losing respect for the other team is code for not hungry enough and not having the requisite humbleness to go along with the extreme confidence,” Dr. Murray said. “As a sports psychologist, I want my athletes extremely confident, but at the same time knowing that if they do not give a 110 percent effort, it will all blow up in their face.”
Much like it did in Oakland.
Dr. Murray cited that there needs to be the proper balance between motivation and taking care of an athlete’s ego while also providing the right level of criticism. Ryan didn’t seem to care what Namath had to say or if the points were valid, even though Dr. Murray concluded that it wasn’t likely Namath was seeking attention or being overly-critical.
“I’m not going to change who I am because Joe Namath said something,” Ryan said on Monday. “Namath can come in here, and if he can still throw, we’ll have him as a backup quarterback, but you know what? He doesn’t know our team. He’s on the outside.”
In the eyes of Dr. Murray, this was a bit over-the-top from the Jets head coach. The fallout from this back-and-forth has become a “Namath vs. Rex” battle and a distraction this team doesn’t necessarily need. After the loss in Oakland, the Jets don’t need any more strife to distract them, leading to a small media circus at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
“I think there is some ego involved here and [Ryan’s] comments, while totally understandable, are a little too reactive and defensive,” Dr. Murray said. “If I were advising Rex, I would take the good that Namath said and then add his part to the equation rather than simply being defensive or reacting negatively to the comment. It sounds more personal than some strategy to get the team focused.”
But this is vintage Ryan, a head coach who has mastered the “us against the world” mantra in getting his Jets to overachieve over the past two years — including a 4-2 postseason mark. Even if some fans and critics cringe at Ryan’s promises, such as guaranteeing a Super Bowl win before every season, there is an innate ability that he has in the locker room to rally his troops at low moments.
After the loss against the Raiders, it appears that Ryan might be grabbing ahold of Namath’s comments to divert attention away from his team’s subpar performance. If Ryan is attempting to circle the proverbial wagons ahead of a trip to Baltimore this weekend, it is a risky move for Ryan to employ.
“It is a useless distraction to re-focus on what some former NFL and Jets icon said, whether spot on or not,” Dr. Murray said. “Deal with the present and if you want to reiterate a comment, do so by taking the good of it and then putting your angle on it.”
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Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.