The Rex Ryan Era: Success or Failure?

Should Rex Ryan’s tenure as coach be considered a success or a failure so far? Photo courtesy of NY Times.

After five years as the New York Jets’ coach, Rex Ryan has experienced all sides of the media spectrum. He was praised as coach while leading the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship games, and he was criticized for not doing enough to turn around an under-performing team in the last couple of seasons. The media turned an anthill into a mountain with their coverage of Ryan’s lap band surgery, his tattoo of his wife wearing Mark Sanchez’s jersey (see that here), and his repeated predictions of a run to the Super Bowl, just to name a few instances. He has been the most controversial professional football coach over the last half-decade, but it is yet to be seen whether his reign will ultimately be deemed a success or a failure.

Based on the Jets’ media exposure, the Rex Ryan era is an undeniable success. If  we lived in a world where there really is no such thing as bad publicity (as the saying goes), then the insane amount of coverage the team gets can only work to its benefit. They might have been the laughingstock of the league for a time, but at least people were talking about them. During the 2012 season, all ESPN could talk about was how Tim Tebow was behind Mark Sanchez on the depth chart, even as Sanchez continued to struggle. Day after day, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” reported on the Tim Tebow saga, and that publicity alone prevented the Jets from fading into obscurity while remaining embroiled in mediocrity.

Now, in reality, some of the publicity the Jets get has been negative. No coach likes to be criticized for playing his presumptuous starter in the 4th quarter of a meaningless preseason game, which Rex Ryan did, and getting him injured. No coach likes to be laughed at by the rest of the league after failing to deliver on his brash promise of winning a Super Bowl. No coach likes his tattoos to get more attention than his team. No coach likes to be a fixture on the back page of the New York Post every other day because of his childish antics. But in terms of getting the Jets into the limelight, Rex Ryan has orchestrated a success.

However, the question of success or failure becomes more complicated when based on the Jets’ record. Over the past 5 seasons, the Jets have compiled a record of 42-38, which is a .519 winning percentage. That leaves the team at just about average when compared with the rest of the teams in the league.

The first two years of Ryan’s tenure were a wild success. With a young quarterback in Mark Sanchez and a stout, fearless defense, the Jets seemed poised to be title contenders for years to come. In 2009 and 2010, they were one win away from the Super Bowl. The future was bright, and there was no doubt in the minds of fans that their team, long mired in mediocrity, had escaped it for good.

Alas, it was not to be. After those first two seasons, the Jets failed to reach the playoffs again, and the team seemed to be spiraling back down to its natural state on the periphery of the league. After those first two seasons, Sanchez regressed in his play, the defense became vulnerable to attack, and Ryan was the unfailing subject of nitpicking for the media. Over the last three seasons, the Jets were 22-26, nothing to be proud of considering their once promising future. The Jets were the source of a media circus, and Ryan was the ringleader. Ryan and the Jets experienced a low point with the infamous Patriots game when the “butt fumble” occurred, in which the Pats scored 4 touchdowns alone in the 2nd quarter. Based on the team’s play the last three seasons, it is surprising Ryan got a contract extension from the front office.

Maybe it is too soon to tell whether the Rex Ryan era is a success or a failure. It is completely possible that Ryan will guide the team back to the playoffs this year with Michael Vick or Geno Smith at the helm, but it is also possible that the Jets could regress and return to the AFC cellar. So far, through five years, the reign of Rex Ryan has produced mixed results. But he is still chugging along, with a misplaced tattoo on his arm and the whole experience under his belt.

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