EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan was always good for a laugh or a headline — usually both — during his six seasons with the New York Jets.
He has consistently led the league in entertaining news conferences and continues to do so with the Buffalo Bills. Twitter was buzzing the moment Ryan stepped to the podium wearing a Clemson helmet Tuesday.
“This dude is wild,” Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins said of Ryan’s latest stunt. “That’s crazy.”
Those are just a few of the entries on a lengthy list of adjectives used to describe the NFL’s most quotable coach.
Brash. Bold. Real. Controversial. Lovable. Outspoken. Obnoxious. Annoying. Silly. Fun.
They all apply.
He took his share of criticism this week when he announced that Ikemefuna Enemkpali would be a game captain Thursday against New York, despite the linebacker breaking Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw with a punch during training camp. Ryan was defiant, insisting he was simply sticking with his tradition of honoring players going up against their former teams or playing in their hometown.
He’s the classic example of the guy you can’t stand when he’s on the other sideline and love if he’s on your side — as long as there’s winning to go along with all the yapping.
“Good defensive coach,” Jets safety Calvin Pryor said. “Definitely got a sense of humor and a funny guy. He’s a good person.”
But Pryor clammed up when he was asked if Ryan is a good head coach.
“Uhh, he said. “No comment on that.”
The jury is indeed still out. Ryan’s 50-54 regular-season record is mediocre, although his 4-2 mark in the postseason — all on the road — is mighty impressive.
When Ryan was hired by the Jets as coach in 2009, he burst into the Big Apple with guarantees and declarations that fired up a fanbase thirsting for an identity. He delivered that, and then some, kicking things off by predicting a meeting with President Barack Obama as Super Bowl champions.
Dull was out and swagger was in — in a big way.
The consecutive trips to the AFC championship game raised expectations as well as Ryan’s profile. He was in a movie, wrote a best-selling book and became the face of the franchise. His popularity soared to the point where he could have probably run for mayor and won in a landslide.
He declared during a radio interview that he didn’t come to New York to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. Ryan provided perhaps the most memorable line on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in 2010, when he lit into his players with an expletive-laced tirade and capped it by demanding everyone eat a snack.
Ryan flipped off a fan once, and shouted a profanity at another. He showed up to a news conference wearing a blonde wig and a pillow under his sweatshirt to imitate his twin brother Rob. His massive weight loss after Lap-Band surgery made headlines. So did the tattoo on his right arm that featured his wife wearing a Mark Sanchez No. 6 Jets jersey.
“Good times,” Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said.
But Ryan’s words began to ring hollow with fans, the media and perhaps some of his players as the wins dwindled. A change in general managers — from Mike Tannenbaum to John Idzik — in 2013 didn’t help, particularly since Ryan and Idzik were in the equivalent of a forced marriage.
New York went 4-12 last season and owner Woody Johnson opted to clean house.
“I should have handled things differently when I was there and should have really made sure that Woody, in particular, knew exactly what I was feeling,” Ryan said this week. “So I think you learn from it and all that type of stuff. But it’s 100 percent my responsibility. I never ducked that.”
Ryan didn’t stay unemployed for long, blowing into Buffalo a few weeks after getting fired. He brought that familiar electricity to his introductory news conference, vowing to return the Bills to respectability — and the playoffs.
That’s a daunting task, considering Buffalo hasn’t been to the postseason in 15 seasons, the league’s longest active drought.
On Thursday night, he’s back at MetLife Stadium, the place where Ryan’s celebrity rose to its peak. A win for his Bills (4-4) against the Jets (5-3) would go a long way toward helping the coach live up to his promise in his second act as an NFL head coach.
Across the river from Broadway, no less.
“I’ve been blessed to, you know, get another opportunity here with the Bills and really that’s where my focus is,” Ryan said. “I don’t really want to dwell on what happened in the past and that type of stuff. Just focus on the right now, and the present, and we know we got a huge game in front of us and that’s really where the focus is.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, New York, contributed.
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