Happy Trails, Rex

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Following an unexpected run to the AFC Championship, the Ravens' future is bright.

But, that future will develop without one of the most revered coaches in franchise history.

Rex Ryan was officially introduced as the new head coach of the New York Jets Monday evening, hours after the Ravens held their final full-team meeting and cleaned out their lockers.

By that time, Ryan had already cleaned out his defensive coordinator's office and was en route to the Jets' new training complex in Florham Park, N.J., to finish negotiations with team officials.

In Ryan's absence, his former players were emotional when discussing his departure.

For the Ravens, Ryan's worth was just as much about Baltimore's on-field performances as it was about the relationships he developed with his charges.

"Rex will be missed," said a somber Bart Scott. "We all knew it was a reality. With him, it was his ability to connect with his players, get down to their level and become one of them. This was well-deserved."

"Rex is a better person than coach. He cares about you, and he keeps us under control," cornerback Samari Rolle continued. "We're his guys. I mean, look at this locker room. There are some strong personalities on this defense to deal with, real strong personalities. But Rex handles it. He's got a strong personality, too. Nobody disrespects Rex - nobody. We all play for him."

Added linebacker Terrell Suggs: "You want to give your heart out for Rex. I don't know what it is about him, but I hope he never changes. That's exactly why in a heartbeat, no matter what he'll ask me to do, I'll do it."

The son of Buddy Ryan, a longtime NFL coach known for his fiery demeanor, Rex Ryan consistently exuded confidence.

Even when facing the most explosive offenses, Ryan was always quick to say, "Well, they have to deal with us, too."

It is difficult to argue with Ryan's results.

As the only defensive coach left over from Baltimore's 2000 Super Bowl squad, Ryan joined the team in 1999 to tutor the defensive line. He was promoted to coordinator in 2005.

With Ryan on staff, the Ravens have finished as the NFL's best at limiting points (17.11 per game), generating turnovers (327), stopping the run (87.3 rush yards per game) and getting off the field (33.9 percent success rate on third down).

He's done it by employing an innovative 3-4 attack that some call "organized chaos" for its multiple looks and bringing pressure from any angle.

"We call him the Mad Scientist," cornerback Frank Walker affirmed.

"Rex is a winner. It's that simple," said cornerback Fabian Washington, who also played under Rex Ryan's twin brother, Rob, with the Oakland Raiders. "He's going to be a winner. Everybody on this team is happy for Rex. It was long overdue, and I hope he gets those boys back on track."

Rob Ryan is now the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator.

Rex Ryan replaces Eric Mangini, who guided the Jets to a disappointing 9-7 record in 2008. New York sputtered to the finish, playing their way out of a playoff spot by losing four of their last five contests.

It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that this would be Ryan's year to land a head coaching position.

Over the past two offseasons, Ryan had interviewed with the San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and the Ravens.

Baltimore opted to give the job to John Harbaugh, who was quick to retain Ryan to lead the defense, even adding assistant head coach to Ryan's title.

That meant Ryan would be more involved in the decision-making process.

"I was blessed to be in this situation with John and [offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron," a bleary-eyed Ryan said after Sunday's 23-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I feel like I'm definitely more prepared to be a head coach in this league."

Both the Jets and the Ravens obviously felt the same way.

The Ravens now must work on replacing the gregarious, intense and creative Ryan. Outside linebackers coach Mike Pettine is expected to join Ryan in New York.

It is unknown if the Ravens will opt to promote from within, as they have typically done because of familiarity with the Baltimore system, or hire an outsider.

Whoever steps into that vacancy will certainly have some big shoes to fill.

"You can't replace a Rex Ryan," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "His personality, his coaching ability, the way he inspires guys and how guys trust him… You can't replace that. He's unbelievable."

In Rex's Words

Ryan released this statement through the Jets Monday evening:* "I'd like to thank Woody Johnson and [general manager] Mike Tannenbaum for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's been a dream of mine to become a head coach in the NFL. Coming here to the New York Jets, where my father once coached and was part of the Super Bowl III staff, is fantastic. I look around at the facilities and the people they have in place and see a first-class organization. I'm just proud to be part of it."*

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