January 20, 2010

Jets’ coach Rex Ryan has become a favorite quote-machine for a lot of sports guys across the nation. Today I brought up just two cases from two prominent writers.                                                 
First I’ll show how the SF Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins is pointing out that Ryan is turning from being a clown to someone wearing a crown.                                                                  
“Once the New York media has labeled someone a clown, the recovery process can take years. For Jets coach Rex Ryan, it took about two months – a development as wild and improbable as the Jets’ playoff run itself.
The Jets’ season was cascading into oblivion after their 24-22 loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 15. Ryan had called a couple of apparently pointless timeouts in the second half, and with two minutes remaining, he had none left. Jacksonville had the ball at the New York 14-yard line, and in a stunning decision that seemed to contradict everything players are taught, he ordered his defense to let the Jaguars score.
It seems the message wasn’t properly delivered. On a running play, Maurice Jones-Drew was brought down at the 10. Then, in a wise but even more unsightly bit of strategy, Jones-Drew took a knee at the 1-yard line when he could have scored with ease. Here was a scene where nobody wanted to tackle or score, and as the Jets took their fourth loss in five games, Ryan was roundly criticized for being cocky (his trademark) and overmatched.
It hardly helped Ryan’s public image when, the next day in practice, he began crying during an impassioned speech to his players. Ryan got slammed by the press, now fully convinced he was the wrong man for the job, but his players found it inspiring. Ryan didn’t back off his rollicking, wise-cracking public stance, and today we find him the most compelling coach among the four remaining in postseason play.
The Colts’ Jim Caldwell might yet prove to be the smartest man in the room, but he remains a villain in some quarters for pulling his starters in Week 16,
easing off the accelerator of an unbeaten season and giving the Jets an inside track. Minnesota’s Brad Childress not only made the senseless decision to let
Brett Favre play to the finish of the Vikings’ rout of Dallas, but had Favre throw a rub-it-in TD pass with less than two minutes left – a rather tacky finish to an already awful game.
Sean Payton is on a tremendous roll in New Orleans, but like several coaches in the NFL, he needs to get over this nonsense of “freezing” the opposing
placekicker a split-second before the snap. Once again, we saw a kick sailing through the air, about to be nullified by amateur-hour deceit. (Surely, we’re in for a rules change before the start of next season; this can’t continue.)
In the end, we had Ryan making a courageous, old-school decision to run the ball on that 4th-and-1 with 1:09 left in San Diego. Ryan wasn’t about to let his
rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez) throw a pass at that stage, and everyone in the country knew what was coming. Thomas Jones got the yardage to spare, game over, take that. Beautiful.”

Then we’ll read how John Feinstein, of the DC Post, feels that Ryan can save the NFL playoffs from tedium. 
“If these past two weekends were the best the NFL has to offer, maybe there’s a chance for the USFL to make a comeback.
Six of the eight games were enough to make one think about switching to Dick Vitale calling a women’s basketball game. Or Dick Vitale talking about calling a women’s basketball game.
Wild-card weekend gave us Packers-Cardinals and three games that even fans of the winners would be hard-pressed to watch to the end. The
Ravens-Patriots game was over before Bill Belichick had a chance to get his hoodie into position.
Surely the divisional playoff weekend would be better. Except it wasn’t: It was worse. The winning teams were ahead by a combined 35 points at halftime
Saturday and never looked back, and the only real suspense in the over-hyped Cowboys-Vikings matchup was when the “Can Wade Phillips survive?” talk would begin.
Enter the New York Jets and Rex Ryan to save the day, the weekend and the first two weeks of the postseason.
Everyone knows the one and only great moment in Jets franchise history took place 41 years ago, when Joe Namath correctly predicted that his underdog team from the allegedly inferior American Football League would beat the lordly Baltimore Colts. Since then, the Jets have made an art form of losing much the same way the Cubs have done in baseball. It isn’t that the Jets haven’t returned to a Super Bowl; it’s the many ways they’ve found to avoid getting back there, including (among other crimes) firing Pete Carroll in order to hire the immortal Rich Kotite.
Enter Ryan.
One would think if anyone would fit the mold of a football coach it would be Ryan. After all he’s the son of Buddy Ryan, the defensive genius who built the
Bears “46” defense in 1985 and went on to a good deal of success as head coach in Philadelphia and not so much success in Arizona. Rex and his twin
brother Rob were raised, for all intents and purposes, to play and coach football.
And, while it’s completely true that Rex inherited a lot of his father’s instincts for coaching defense, he could not be more different personally. Buddy Ryan’s photo appears in the dictionary under the definition of “gruff coach.” We’re talking about a guy who once slugged his offensive coordinator on the sideline during a game.
Rex Ryan would sooner hug you than slug you. He’s a massive bear of a man, a guy who as defensive line coach for the Ravens used to allow his players to
weigh him in each day during training camp as part of a running gag/contest meant to remind the players that if he could get down to just north of 300 pounds they ought to be able to get their weight down too.
When the Ravens decided to hire John Harbaugh instead of Ryan two years ago, Ryan never blinked. He could have gone a lot of places, but he felt he owed it to his players to stay if Harbaugh wanted him to stay. Harbaugh’s a bright guy. His first move was to ask Ryan to stay.
A year ago when Eric Mangini was fired after three seasons of putting the media to sleep, Ryan jumped at the chance to move up. He knew he was ready because he had spent his entire life preparing to be a head coach. He had learned a lot from his father — what to do and what not to do — and he couldn’t wait to test himself at the highest level of the sport.
At his opening news conference he made it clear that he was no Mangini. He said he wasn’t at all intimidated by the specter of Bill Belichick in New England.
“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings,” he said. “I came here to win.”
Ryan has never met a challenge he didn’t savor. He committed to a rookie quarterback before the Jets opening game, no doubt encouraged by the success the Ravens had a year ago with Joe Flacco. Of course Flacco became the starter only because Kyle Boller was hurt in preseason. Ryan got a look at journeyman Kellen Clemens and decided there was no sense wasting time by putting Mark Sanchez on the bench.
Sanchez struggled mightily in the middle of the season while the Jets were dropping six of seven. Ryan cried in one news conference standing up for his team and publicly pleaded with Jim Caldwell to bench Peyton Manning when the 7-7 Jets went to Indianapolis to play the 14-0 Colts, who had wrapped up home field advantage through the playoffs.
Manning came out in the third quarter, the Jets won, then beat the Bengals — who also had nothing to play for — and everyone figured the Jets would make a brief postseason appearance allowing Ryan to declare the season the success.
Except Ryan wasn’t having any of that. Before wild card weekend he said the Jets’ goal was to win the Super Bowl, and he wouldn’t trade his team for any of
the other 11 in the playoffs. Many people scoffed. Well, now he doesn’t want to trade his team for any of the other three left in the playoffs. He’s still planning the parade.
Of course it all may come to a skidding halt Sunday in Indianapolis. Caldwell won’t be benching Manning or any of his other starters, and the notion that the time off might have hurt the Colts was certainly laid to rest Saturday night. What’s more, the Colts’ defense appears to be close to where it was when they won the Super Bowl three years ago.
But you know what? You never know. No one gave Namath and the Jets a chance 41 years ago, and almost no one gave Sanchez and the Jets a chance
against a team that had won 11 straight games entering Sunday’s game in San Diego. The Jets could have been blown out in the first half, and if Nate Kaeding hadn’t gotten the playoff yips again, a 10-0 deficit might have looked insurmountable at halftime.
Ifs and buts. When Ryan was asked about Kaeding’s two relatively short misses after he had made 69 in a row inside 40 yards, he just shrugged and said, “It’s the playoffs.”
Indeed it is. At last check Rex Ryan’s team is still playing and not kissing anyone’s rings. Bill Belichick is shopping for new hoodies.
The NFL should be grateful.”

John Tomase of the Boston Herald talked about how Baltimore shouldn’t be taken very lightly in the AL-East anymore.                                                                                                                                       “World Cup soccer has its Group of Death. Baseball has the American League East.
And it looks like the latter’s about to get a little deadlier.
While the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are rightfully viewed as the Red Sox’ chief competition in the division, the Baltimore Orioles have very stealthfully, and quickly, laid the groundwork for what could be a long-awaited Camden Yards renaissance.
Since Andy MacPhail became president of baseball operations in June 2007, the Orioles have transformed themselves from perennial doormats to a team with a plan, and that plan could start bearing fruit in 2010 after a series of shrewd off-season acquisitions.
In right-hander Kevin Millwood, closer Mike Gonzalez and third baseman Garrett Atkins, the Orioles improved themselves at three positions. With a pipeline of young pitchers expected to start flowing this year, and catcher Matt Wieters on the verge of superstardom, Baltimore is well-positioned to make some noise.
“Most of those guys last year, it was about developing them,” O’s manager Dave Trembley recently said. “I think now we ought to translate that development into the team winning more.”
The Orioles still have a ways to go. They finished last in the AL East with just 64 wins – 39 games behind the Yankees. The worst-to-first Rays of 2008, by comparison, were coming off a 66-win season.
Like Tampa Bay, Baltimore has youth on its side as it rebuilds.
“I would think we’re really a lot further ahead than we were last year, as far as individual progress,” Trembley said. “What we need to do now is take the individual progress and turn it into a collective team progress.”
The Orioles have no shortage of building blocks. Right fielder Nick Markakis is a legitimate No. 3 hitter whose power should blossom at age 26. Center fielder Adam Jones is coming off his first Gold Glove and All-Star appearance. Second baseman Brian Roberts is a two-time All-Star. Left fielder Nolan Reimold made a push for 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.
Then there’s Wieters.
The No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft, he was widely hailed as the best prospect in the game when he debuted after just 39 games at Triple A last year, and he did little to disappoint. In 96 games, the switch hitter batted .288 with nine homers and 43 RBI. He batted .333 with four homers, 17 RBI and an .882 OPS after Sept. 1.
“I expect people think I’m going to hit him third or fourth,” Trembley said. “Over the course of six months in the big leagues, I think Wieters will be more like what you saw the last month of the season than what you saw when he first got there.”
Offense aside, the true cause for optimism is a stable of young pitchers Left-hander Brian Matusz, the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, zoomed from Single A to the majors in his pro debut last year, going 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA with Baltimore.
Matusz will be joined by right-hander Brad Bergesen, who was having an outstanding rookie year before being felled by a line drive off the shin, as well as righty Chris Tillman. Top prospect Jake Arrieta, another righty, waits in the wings.
“They’re coming,” one rival team executive said. “And they’re legit.”
The Orioles got to this point quickly under the leadership of MacPhail, who won a pair of World Series with the Minnesota Twins as a wunderkind general manager and descends from a line of Hall of Fame execs in grandfather Larry and father Lee.
Andy MacPhail’s best move, without question, was sending injury-prone left-hander Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners two years ago for Jones, Tillman and George Sherrill. Sherrill became an All-Star closer before being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year for third baseman Josh Bell, who is now the team’s top positional prospect.
To bridge the gap while Bell acquires minor league seasoning, the O’s signed Atkins, the former Colorado Rockies slugger who had drawn some interest from the Red Sox as a free agent.
Along those same lines, Millwood gives the club a veteran to pair with right-hander Jeremy Guthrie while the young pitchers develop. And Gonzalez is a hard-throwing lefty closer who has averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his career.
Add it all together, and the Orioles may be competitive a lot sooner than people think.”


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