If the Jets win on Sunday, Rex Ryan won't be the first rookie head coach to advance to the Super Bowl. He will be the first one to get invited to a hot dog eating contest as a result, but other rookies have taken their teams to the big game. It's pretty likely that his trip would have a bigger impact on the game of football than those of Red Miller or current Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan, though.
Sometime in the last 10 or 12 years it's become de rigeur for NFL coaches to play the role of cool, cerebral, antisocial savants. Coaches stopped dressing well and started looking like Eric Mangini, but only because it reinforced some false notion that they cared too much about football to be bothered with looking in the mirror. It's the same as the fashionista who spends an hour making sure her jeans are torn just so and her sweater looks distressed enough to fit the bill of what's "in" at the moment.
Ryan's not like that. He leads with his gut, follows with his heart and if that means that he starts crying, well, then he starts crying. Never for one moment do you doubt his honesty and his belief, something that you can't say about most of the guys in the head coaching fraternity.
To a large portion of the football audience, professional or fan, that is something they can't wrap their heads around. Ryan is loud, he doesn't couch his comments behind false humility or political correctness and he's unafraid of any opponent or topic that falls on his table. The conventional wisdom is that voices like that must be silenced and that any expression of positivity about your team must be balanced with a homily about the nobility of your opponents or a terse no comment because you can't be bothered with speaking to the media.
Beyond the willingness to speak confidently and state his positions clearly, Ryan clearly loves his players and cares about his players. And his coaching staff. Giving Marty Schottenheimer a game ball last weekend was a perfect example of that. Brian Schottenheimer called a great game against the team that fired his father after a 14-2 season. That makes you want to work harder for your boss because you know he respects what you're doing.
Compare that to what Bill Belichick, patron saint of the "acceptable" NFL coaching style, had to say when Tom Brady destroyed his knee moments into the 2008 season. "He played one position; he played it very well. We have somebody else playing that position now." Translation: You're all fungible and I'm the only one that matters. That's not the game Ryan plays.
If Ryan wins Sunday, though, that will all change. The NFL remains a copycat league and fans and owners can't miss what they're seeing from this Jets team. Ryan has inspired a performance well beyond anything that was expected and he's done it with the majority of the football world rooting against him. Some other team is gonna want a piece of that and it's a good bet that you'll start seeing coaches who actually seem to have heartbeats popping up around the league regardless of Sunday's result.
With a win, though, it's a certainty. That's a great thing for the NFL because Ryan has been great for the NFL.