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Bob Ryan

Ryan a rare treat in pro sports

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 9, 2011

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Where do you start with Rex Ryan?

With the possible exception of his twin brother Rob, it’s not really enough to say there is no other NFL coach like him. There may be no other coach in any professional sport like him, not that the personality bar is set particularly high.

I mean, what passed for coaching eccentricity before the guy I like to call Cousin Rex came along? We had Jerry Glanville supposedly leaving game tickets for Elvis and always dressing in black. And there was, um, um . . . you tell me.

I’m not saying that all coaches and/or managers are cut from the same bolt of cloth. There have always been loud guys, quiet guys, studious guys, seat-of-the-pants guys, no-nonsense guys, loosey-goosey guys, intellectual guys, classic tunnel-vision lifer guys, and all kinds of guys. Vince Lombardi wasn’t Marv Levy. Red Auerbach wasn’t Doug Moe. Fred Shero wasn’t (fill in the blank) Sutter. And Lord knows Dick Williams wasn’t Joe Maddon.

When you get down to it, there is really only one coaching universal, and that is a man must be true to his personality. That doesn’t mean someone can’t be flexible in the exercise of his duties, but he cannot attempt to portray himself in front of his troops as someone other than the man they believe him to be.

If, for example, part of a coach’s M.O. is to make it clear that the rules are not necessarily the same for everybody, that’s perfectly acceptable as long as the parameters are made clear from the outset. Lombardi may have treated all his players the same (“like dogs,’’ someone put it), at least in theory, but Auerbach did not. It was clearly understood that Bill Russell was a separate entity, something that even a Lombardi might well have acknowledged.

Red had his little tricks and gimmicks, but he was consistent in his presentation of his essential self. That never changed.

So it is that Rex Ryan has positioned himself in a certain way as head coach of the New York Jets (HC of the NYJ, as it was once identified). In public he is loud, boastful, arrogant, irreverent, and, by professional coaching standards, exceptionally witty. I’m sure I’m leaving some things out.

When the New York media assemble for his daily briefing, they have no idea what to expect. Will Rex show up in a wig? Will Rex show up in a Southwestern Oklahoma State Hall of Fame blazer (and who knew there even was such a thing?).

Then there’s the simple matter of what might come out of his mouth. Life is assuredly never dull when Rex is around, all of which, if we can believe what we hear, is just fine with his players.

Ultimately, of course, Cousin Rex will be judged by results. There might well be an afterlife for him as a one-of-a-kind talking head on television, but he currently fancies himself a football coach and, though he has been the fascinating center of attention in a manner that dwarfs the public profile of every other NFL coach, he is still ring-less as a head man. At some point, being a defensive guru/class clown won’t be enough.

Granted, it’s still fairly early in the Rex Ryan Era. This is only Year 3. Each of the first two seasons has culminated in a trip to the conference championship game. Jets fans should be pleased. The team has given them much to cheer about.

But here in Year 3, there is a bit of a crisis. In Rex’s offseason world, the glass is always 100 percent full. It’s, you know, we fell a bit short the last two seasons, but this will be our year. With Rex, there’s no public hedging, no halfway pronouncements, no ifs and maybes.

The future may be played on paper, or in your mind, but the present is played on the field. The Jets have not looked like anything resembling a contender the past two weeks. They were going to be a “ground and pound’’ team, but the only team being grounded and pounded lately is the one Rex puts on the field.

The quarterback protection has been woeful and the running game has not materialized. The Raiders ran on them for 234 yards. They come here as a 2-2 team, which is not what Rex had in mind.

The dynamics of the AFC East have changed. The Patriots and Jets have gotten used to worrying only about each other, but now there is the matter of this pesky team up there in Buffalo. The Bills have already taken a bite out of New England’s behind, and they will soon have a chance to snack on New York’s, too. This is a year in which the Patriots and Jets might each need every conceivable W just to make the playoffs.

Rex began his head coaching career by famously stating that he had no plans to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings, and after five games, he is 3-2 against Coach Bill, including the most important one, last January’s 28-21 playoff conquest.

The returning Patriots players, starting with a quarterback who looked as helpless and confused in that game as he has in his entire career, have had eight months to stew. The coaching staff has had eight months to analyze and prepare.

Cousin Rex knows all that. He has known from the moment that game ended that the next one would be as hard as any game on the 2011 schedule. What he did not know was that the first quarter of the 2011 season would not go according to plan - you think he doubted for one second he wouldn’t be 4-0? - and that the game on Oct. 9 would be even more important in the big scheme of things than he could have ever imagined. At least one New York scribe has referred to this as a “virtual must-win.’’

Yet this is the week Cousin Rex breaks out the Southwestern Oklahoma State blazer with the improvised Hall of Fame patch and goes into a riff about comparing his playing career with Coach Bill’s at Wesleyan.

There is no other coach or manager in professional sports who would inject such levity into the dialogue prior to such an important game. It’s a nice little reminder that, whoever wins this game, it’s not a matter of national security.

I hope Cousin Rex is around for another 10 years. No, make it 20.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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