Rex Ryan is many things.
Outspoken. Bombastic. Playful.
Brash. Irreverent. Spirited.
But he is no dummy.
The New York Jets coach has caused many brows to furrow and many eyes to roll because of some of the things he's said. Every time he steps behind a microphone is reason to make sure there are fresh batteries in the tape recorder, but of late, he's been in rare form, calling out two legendary quarterbacks and one illustrious coach.
It's been genius.
Oh, plenty of folks would have you believe that the Oklahoma native who played football at Southwestern Oklahoma State is some sort of buffoon. That couldn't be further from the truth.
The proof is in the results — the Jets have gone on the road as underdogs the first two weeks of the NFL Playoffs but now stand only one win away from the Super Bowl.
Credit the players and the assistants, but give Ryan his due, too.
His bravado has been brilliant.
“I don't do anything by accident,” he told reporters last week. “I'll know what I'm saying and what the reasons are behind it.
“Sometimes, it works, and sometimes, it doesn't.”
It sure seems to work more often than not for Ryan.
A year ago when his Jets battled their way into the playoffs — Ryan himself had pronounced their postseason hopes dead only a month and a half earlier — he distributed a detailed playoff schedule before their opening-round game against the Bengals. It wasn't just for the Cincinnati game but for a playoff run that culminated with a Super Bowl victory. It even included a date for the Jets' victory parade in New York City's famed Canyon of Heroes.
The whole thing put the focus on Ryan and took the spotlight off his inexperienced quarterback.
The result: a pair of playoff wins and an appearance in the AFC Championship game.
This postseason, Ryan has been at it again, but this time, he's made things “personal.”
Before the Jets' wild card game against the Colts, Ryan was reminded of the two times that Indianapolis had knocked him out of the playoffs. The first was in the divisional round in 2006 when he was the Ravens defensive coordinator, the second in the AFC Championship Game a year ago when he was a rookie head coach with the Jets.
“With Peyton Manning, it's like, ‘I want to beat him,'” Ryan said two Mondays ago. “I don't know when I'm going to beat him, but I want it to be Saturday.
“Is it personal? Yes.”
Ryan went with a similar tactic this past week before the Jets' game against the Patriots, making it into a battle of head coaches.
“This is about Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan,” he said. “There's no question. It's personal.”
Calling out the best quarterback in the game?
Calling out the best coach in the league?
The result: a pair of playoff wins and another appearance in the AFC title game.
Talk, of course, is empty and worthless and cheap. It doesn't defend passes. It doesn't block linebackers. It doesn't win games. But in this case, it allowed the Jets to do better the things that it needed to do to be successful.
Indianapolis and New England are places where many teams' playoff dreams have gone to die. They are intimidating venues for visitors. They are paralyzing locales for opponents.
To win in both places, New York needed to play fearlessly.
Ryan's antics let his players know that he wasn't intimidated and that they didn't need to be either. What he said also took the pressure off the players and put it on the coach. All of the pregame buildup became about him, allowing them to play unencumbered and focus on what needed to be done.
He wasn't stealing the spotlight. He was taking a bullet.
Part of being a great coach is being able to handle the psyches of your players, and these playoff victories are proof that Ryan knows exactly what it takes to get his guys to play their best.
“We talk because we believe in ourselves,” Ryan told reporters after the Jets bounced the heavily favored Patriots on Sunday. “Maybe people take it wrong way, but that's it. We're not afraid of anybody.”
Say what you will about his methodology. It is loud. It is coarse. It is verbose.
It is also smart.