STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Pick your adjective for Rex Ryan, the head coach of the New York Jets. People call him brash, boastful, profane. But whatever they say, they must also call him successful. He's coached the Jets for two years and in both seasons they have come within one game of the Super Bowl. The Jets coach grew up learning football from his father, Buddy Ryan, a genius on the defensive side of the game.
Rex Ryan spoke with us about his life in football and his new book, "Play Like You Mean It."
REX RYAN: My dad taught me at a - you know, early in my coaching career that football is an easy game made complicated by coaches. And so what we do is like with our defense, we'll actually have the entire defense in a meeting, and we teach the entire defense to everybody.
INSKEEP: Meaning that on another team it might be that the linebackers go off and meet the cornerbacks or whoever.
INSKEEP: I mean but in this case you've got everybody in the same room.
RYAN: Everybody's in the same room and there's accountability, because you all know each other's jobs. And I can ask a nose tackle question to Darrelle Revis, our great corner, and he'll know. Say, well, Rex, you know, he can't get reached - don't allow a jump through. And that nose tackle can tell you that Darrelle Revis is - you know, Rex, he's got a tight one-third coverage here, and you know, what were counting on is he can't be beat on top.
INSKEEP: Does that mean your cornerback, who's trying to guard a receiver from catching a pass, is going to have that split-second reaction? He's going to know a little bit more quickly what to do because he senses what everybody else is doing?
RYAN: Absolutely. You teach the whole defense to everybody. And it may sound complicated. It's not.
INSKEEP: You write about treating different players differently and that there may be a player that responds to being insulted or you shout profanities at them. You might do any number of things. And then there are other players that you know that you need to be more calm, that they would actually take it personally if you start screaming at them.
RYAN: That's absolutely right. You got to know what button to push on a guy. Bart Scott is one of the toughest guys I've ever been around. He's a mean kid, and you can cuss Bart Scott up and down the field, and sometimes that's the best thing to do to Bart, and he'll respond. Where I could take - I had a great big defensive tackle once, and he was an all-pro for me twice for the Baltimore Ravens, a guy named Sam Adams.
If you did that to Sam Adams, you know, he's sitting down and he's going to get his neck looked at, he's going to do something. He's not playing. But the thing about Sam is, you put your arm around him, he's going out and whipping somebody.
INSKEEP: You know, you mentioned your father. Some people will know. Many people, of course, will know that your father is Buddy Ryan, who had a head coaching career but more famous as a defensive coordinator. Your brother is also an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys right now. And you write at one point that there was a knock on your family, that the Ryans were good coaches but they weren't good head coach material.
What was that about?
RYAN: Well, you know, certainly my dad has coached the greatest defense in the history of this game. And you know, some people thought it was a good 2000 Ravens, which I was actually a part of. But I would say it was without question the '85 Bears. But as great a coach as he was, you know, he's known for actually punching an assistant coach on the sidelines, Kevin Gilbride. That's one of the things he's known for.
INSKEEP: He was also hard on his players, wasn't he?
RYAN: Well, hard on his players, but I always thought my dad was fair on his players. I don't think there's any question about that. I thought he was fair. But I also thought that he could have improved on getting the whole building on board. He was more isolated strictly on football. It was his coaches, it was his players, and that was about it. I do just the opposite. I'm fortunate. I have - you know, starting from ownership that's behind us all the way, where my dad actually fought with the owner.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RYAN: You know, so that was a little different. But I truly believe every person in our organization has the same goal. We all want to win a Super Bowl and we want to have fun getting there.
INSKEEP: I want to play a piece of tape. This is actually you speaking at a press conference during a difficult time for your team. And you're talking about your determination to prove yourself. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
RYAN: If somebody doubted me, I've never said, okay, you're right, and left. I did just the opposite: I'm going to prove it to you. I'm going to prove it to whoever doubts me. That's the way I've been all my life.
INSKEEP: Where did you get that competitiveness, that determination to prove yourself?
RYAN: You know, people have doubted me all my life. I'm dyslexic. You know, struggling, being embarrassed to go to school, and they just thought I was slow and all that stuff. And yet, you know, here my mom ends up being a, you know, a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Dad was a two-time academic All-American. You know, I was frustrated, and quite honestly, you know, the only time I would stay in school is if there was floor hockey or softball. That's how frustrated I got, because I never liked being embarrassed.
I had no idea until I was losing my 40s that this was the problem, you know. That's something I overcame. I had to overcome, you know, the weight issues. You know, I'm fat, I'm whatever, and I think people look at a guy that's heavy as, you know, well, he's lazy. I'm not lazy. I'll outwork anybody. And I had to overcome that. I basically had to overcome my dad punching Kevin Gilbride, 'cause immediately like all these guys, who wants a hothead like this?
Well, that's not who I am...
INSKEEP: They assumed you were like your father in that way.
RYAN: Exactly. I was stepped over for a head coaching position several times even in my own organization. You know, I was with the Baltimore Ravens for 10 years and they chose somebody else. But you know, I used it to fuel, you know, my passion, and I know I'm in the right place - I'm going to show you.
INSKEEP: Is possible that if you did not grow up with undiagnosed dyslexia, with all the difficulties, that you would never have come up with the competitiveness and the habits that led you to overcome all those difficulties and become the head coach of the New York Jets?
RYAN: That's a great question, because you know what? I wouldn't trade anything, you know, for the way I grew up. And to be honest with you, the same time I learned that I was dyslexic, I was actually off the charts in problem solving and creativity. You know, I'm fortunate. I'm doing something that I had such a great passion for. I knew at a young age I wanted to coach football.
I saw the way my dad would come home and how he had a little pad of paper by - that he would sit and we'd watch TV and he'd be writing in that pad. But he could not wait to go to work the next day. And that's how I feel every day. I mean there's times I pull up, you know, to our facilities and I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm the head coach of the New York Jets.
INSKEEP: Well, what are you going to do with yourself if you don't get that opportunity this year because of the lockout which is threatening the NFL season?
RYAN: Whoa, man. I can't think like that, because to me, I look at it this way: There's three certainties that I know. I know - I'm certain that the owners want there to be football. I'm certain that the players want to play football. And I'm certain that the fans want to see football. So I can't tell you when that we're going to play, but I just think we will.
INSKEEP: Rex Ryan of the New York Jets. He's the author of "Play Like You Mean It."
Thanks very much.
RYAN: Well, I really appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee's back with us on Monday. I'm Steve Inskeep.
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