The former New York Jets GM provides some great under-the-radar stories from Rex Ryan’s tenure as head coach
For six tumultuous New York Jets seasons, J-E-T-S was spelled R-E-X. Those are still the glory days for fans of a certain age, but they were also the source of both incredible entertainment and tear-your-hair-out frustration.
Nostalgia can be a dirty liar, but one thing it doesn’t whitewash is Rex Ryan‘s unparalleled style and hilarious quotes. The Jets head coach was bombastic, colorful, foul-mouthed, and rib-achingly funny.
Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum for four of those years before the scourge of John Idzik made his way to New York. He was the architect of those 2009-10 teams and drafted much of the key talent, including Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, and Brad Smith. He also acquired Thomas Jones, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, LaDainian Tomlinson, Calvin Pace, and Antonio Cromartie via free agency and trades.
Although that team had a brief run, the legend lives on in New York. Tannenbaum has drawn anger from Jets fans with some of his brash takes about the team, but they’ll lap up anything that he can share about the Rex years. Tannenbaum appeared on The Omaha Podcast with ESPN’s Kevin Clark to talk Jets.
“I’m standing in front of the locker room, we’re in Indianapolis, we beat the Colts, road playoff win. I will never forget… we had white jerseys on, and there’s this massive red Gatorade punch stain on the front of D-Wood’s [Damien Woody‘s] jersey, and I’ve got a suit on, and I’m hugging one guy after another, totally euphoric. Here’s D-Wood walking in completely somber. You see D-Wood on TV, he’s a big, jovial, happy guy, and we just had a road playoff win, and he walked in totally mundane. And I’m like, ‘What is wrong with you?!’ like, everyone’s going apoplectic.”
Turns out there was a good reason. Woody popped his Achilles during the game and was playing on one leg.
Where did those Jets teams get their confidence from?
“Well all believed we were the baddest team on the planet, and [Rex] really played into it. There were times he would tell Schotty (Brian Schottenheimer), our offensive coordinator, ‘We’re going to run the ball, tell the other team we’re going to run the ball, and then we’re going to run the ball.’ And he actually meant it.”
Sounds like Rex. So does this gold.
“There were times, I was in the room, he would tell Mike Westhoff, our special teams coach, ‘We’re not practicing kickoff returns because they’re not scoring this week, so they’re only kicking off once. We’re taking it off the script. They have no chance, we are not practicing kickoff returns.’ And from every ounce of his soul, he believed it. So much so, the players thought he walked on water.”
Yeah, a team will have confidence when their coach talks like that. The rest of the NFL will hate it, but that team enjoyed having a target on their backs.
Every last guy
Tannenbaum explained how Rex treated Ahmad Carroll, a former first-round bust from Green Bay.
“We get Ahmad Carroll, physically as gifted as anybody, that’s why he was a first-round pick. ‘What do you like to do?’ ‘Coach, I really like to blitz.’ ‘Great.’ That day, Rex Ryan installed the Batman blitz. Ahmad Carroll’s nickname was Batman. And not only was he a great blitzer, but what happens is, and this is where some coaches get it and some just don’t, when the 53rd player has a blitz named after him, he’s going to give you everything he’s got at practice. Now all of a sudden your practices are better because he’s bought in, he’s more competitive.”
Tannenbaum excoriated head coaches who give up on players rather than emphasizing their strengths. He pointed to Kyle Pitts, languishing in Atlanta under a head coach who refuses to utilize his immense physical talent. Rex got it, unlike many other coaches, Tannenbaum said.
“And that’s why Rex was Rex. Could I coach Darrelle Revis? Yeah, I could coach Darrelle Revis: we’re gonna play man-to-man. That’s our call. But his ability to reach guys like Ahmad Carroll is what made Rex really special.”
The 2009-10 Jets won four road playoff games in upset fashion. Tannenbaum recalled a line he gave Ryan before the Jets beat the Chargers in the 2009 Divisional Round.
In the locker room before the game, Ryan had a minute to go out and address the team. The home team in the earlier game was winning, and the home team had won both Saturday games. Tannenbaum told Ryan to tell the team, “Tomorrow’s New York Post back page is easy: ‘Three home teams and the effing Jets.'”
You can watch the full segment here.
Five minutes of amazing Rex Ryan Jets stories with @RealTannenbaum.
-Damien Woody winning a playoff game on a blown achilles.
-Rex not practicing kick returns after announcing the other team can't score.
-Wanting the opponent to know it's a run. pic.twitter.com/Xd0mvFd2IV
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) October 5, 2023
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