They're not really that different, you know, Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan. Both are brilliant defensive strategists, both are the sons of coaches, both have a Frank Sinatra-approach ("I did it my way") that is at the core of their coaching philosophy.
Both are witty and capable of rattling off quips as quickly as they diagram a blitz.Belichick was asked what the coaches did with the supposed off-day yesterday and said the staff's focus was "totally about the Jets, other than the pony rides and canoeing." Well, played, Bill, well played.
Perhaps some of the common ground is why Ryan has garnered both Belichick's attention and his respect heading into their latest meeting of the minds Monday night. The jabbering Jets coach is much more than a punchline with a big waist line, Patriots fans. He represents the closest thing the unrivaled Belichick currently has to a coaching rival right now.
Finding a coach who can match minds with Belichick, even for a few games, is like finding an empty mall during the holiday season.
Tony Dungy is doing television. Nick Saban is enjoying his Southeastern Conference fiefdom at Alabama. Mike Shanahan is ensnared in the Daniel Snyder death trap in D.C. Belichick slices up the Steelers' schemes like he's a "Top Chef" contestant, and Chargers coach Norv Turner's teams don't always play heads-up football.
Ryan might not always look or act the part, but he's a coach who challenges the game's greatest coach to step up his game. It's a challenge you can bet Belichick welcomes. He wouldn't be who he is if he didn't.
Under that stoic exterior, he wants to kick Ryan's butt as much as Ryan wants to kick his -- probably more.
Ryan is the type of coach who says he's not going to kiss anyone's rings and you can kiss his you know what if you don't like his style. But behind the bumptious bravado, he's also a student of the game, like Belichick, and that's why there is a mutual admiration society between the two.
"I think he's the number one coach in this league. That's undisputable," said Ryan.
"I think he's creative. He has a lot of good ideas. ... He creates a lot of problems. He is an excellent coach, no doubt about that," said Belichick.
In a way, you have to admire Ryan's honesty in the fact he is so openly gunning for Belichick. Why sugarcoat it? He knows that if the Jets are going to become anything other than a foil for the Patriots, then he is going to have to beat the hooded Houdini.
He says things like he wants to kick Belichick's booty because Belichick is the coaching gold standard, not because he is trying to antagonize or belittle him. It's exactly the opposite.
More than any of Ryan's brash proclamations, what rankles Belichick is his second-half success against the Patriots. Under Belichick no team has been better at making halftime or in-game adjustments than the Patriots, but in the three meetings with Ramblin' Rex and the Jets, the Patriots have scored a total of seven points after halftime and been shut out twice, including the teams' first meeting this season.
Here is what the Patriots have done offensively against Ryan and the Jets in the second half of the teams' three meetings:
Sept. 2009 -- 0 second-half points, 102 yards of offense in the second half.
Nov. 2009 -- 7 second half points, 138 yards of offense in the second half. (The touchdown was set up by a Mark Sanchez interception that gave the Patriots the ball at the Jets' 25).
Sept. 2010 -- 0 second-half points, 80 yards of offense in the second half.
Belichick was asked about this earlier this week, and he started fidgeting behind the dais and tersely deflected away the question. Ryan's comments don't get under his skin, but the perception that the Jets are better adjusted than the Patriots does.
The Patriots' fearless leader has lost as many times to Ryan (twice) as he did to former protege Eric Mangini in seven games against the Jets, and for one of those Mangini defeats, he had Matt Cassel at quarterback and not Tom Brady.
Ryan talks a good game, but he can coach one as well.
You hear some people trying to make the suggestion that these Jets are a lucky 9-2. Well, at least one former Patriot doesn't feel that way, and neither does Belichick. The good teams like the Patriots and Jets know that, like Branch Rickey said, luck is the residue of design.
"Rex has done a really good job of putting that team together. They’re obviously well coached," said Belichick. "And in the games where they have had to make plays at the end of the game ... they’ve done it. So they're really doing a good job in clutch situations playing good situational football."
If you know anything about Belichick, you know that there is no higher compliment he can pay a coach than to say that his team excels at "situational football." It's like Warren Buffet praising your investment portfolio.
Lest anyone get all up in arms, let's be clear. Comparing résumés, there is no comparison between Ryan and Belichick. The only ring Ryan has as a head coach is his wedding ring.
There is no better football coach on planet Earth than Belichick. If I had to win one game anywhere, anytime, I want Belichick designing the game plan. Who else could turn a supposed retooling year into a real chance to pick up more Super Bowl hardware?
Belichick is still the undisputed champion of NFL coaches, and history says it will stay that way.
But Ryan has proven himself a worthy adversary, and there aren't many of those for Belichick.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.