By JIM LITKE
Even with the start of the NFL season nearly two weeks away, you don’t need a Las Vegas bookmaker to pick a favorite for the first coach likely to be fired.
It’s Rex Ryan.
At the rate he’s burning through whatever goodwill is left on the Jets’ side of town, he’ll be lucky to still be working the sideline when they kick it off for real Sept. 8 against Tampa Bay.
Ryan was eerily calm at a news conference Monday, fending off question after question about: a) his bizarre decision to risk quarterback Mark Sanchez’ health late in Saturday night’s preseason game against the crosstown Giants; and b) the even-more bizarre postgame meltdown during which Ryan did everything — including invoking the Constitution — to avoid explaining that decision.
“Do I regret that he got injured? Of course,” Ryan finally acknowledged a day and a half later. “But again, I’m not going to say anything more about it, because I covered that already.”
Not surprising, the next question was whether Jets owner Woody Johnson or new general manager John Idzik had spoken to Ryan about his performance Saturday night.
“No. Absolutely not,” Ryan replied, before heading for the exit.
Even if that’s true, he’ll be called to the principal’s office soon enough.
Ryan came to town four years ago with impeccable defensive credentials, plenty of bluster and a promise to win championships. Instead, his tenure has provided a textbook study on why some very smart coordinators aren’t cut out to be head coaches: They talk a great game, but they only really “get” what happens on what used to be their side of the ball.
In Ryan’s case, it almost seems genetic. His father, Buddy, was the same way. It’s also why Ryan’s twin brother, Rob, currently in New Orleans beginning his fourth stint as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, probably won’t ever get a shot.
There’s a neat little story about how the old man reacted when both sons were finishing college and told Buddy they wanted to follow him into the profession: He piled them into the car and drove to a motel not far from his family home in Oklahoma. Buddy spent the next two days making them watch film morning until night, teaching them everything he knew.
In hindsight, putting Buddy’s reputation for handling QBs alongside Rex’s, it’s probable that whenever the word “quarterback” came up during those study sessions, it was followed by words like “crush” and “destroy.” Based on the way Rex Ryan has brought Sanchez along, not to mention his flirtation with Tim Tebow, it’s clear his thinking hasn’t evolved much.
“I like where our quarterbacks are,” Ryan said at one point Monday.
There’s no point in reciting preseason stats, but suffice it to say Ryan is in denial. At least that may explain his eerie calm. Sanchez has rarely been a serviceable NFL quarterback, and after Ryan sent him back into Saturday night’s meaningless game behind a line made up of scrubs, he’s as far away as ever. Top draft pick Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the same game and just for good measure, stepped out of the end zone in a panic and got whistled for a safety.
Ryan’s job was already on the line at the end of last season. Idzik inherited him and barely needs an excuse to disown him. Even so, Ryan handed him all the excuses he needed Saturday night. Asked about Sanchez and how he planned to solve the glaring quarterbacking problem on his hands, Ryan threw a fit. Like a man walking on coals, he shuffled from side to side and even narrated the scene.
“I’ll stand backwards and answer the question,” he said, then segued into, “I’m going sideways.”
If Johnson and Idzik are genuinely worried about the Jets’ season, let alone the team’s reputation, they might as well start negotiating the severance check now and nudge Ryan in the direction of the back door. His stay began with plenty of fanfare and some impressive results — back-to-back losses in the AFC championship game — but like Buddy, given enough time, he wears a team out.
The Jets are tired, or else incapable, of cashing the checks Rex writes with his mouth. More than a few coaches and GMs who were fired last season got pink slips because they couldn’t develop a quarterback, let alone uncover one already on the roster. Ryan has proven he’s not about to learn any new tricks, and after the stunt he pulled Saturday night, he’s going to have a hard time finding anyone to bail him out.
Reach Jim Litke at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JimLitke.