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This year, no guarantees. Rex Ryan learned his lesson a year ago. Ryan, emboldened by two straight trips to the AFC title game, guaranteed his Jets would win the Super Bowl. Instead, they were a divided, dysfunctional wreck, an 8-8 team that didn't even qualify for the playoffs.
But please, Rex, tell me you haven't turned into one of those colorless football coaches who act as if expressing a real opinion were a federal offense.
"I'm going to be myself, like always," Ryan said Wednesday on a conference call with the Buffalo media. "When I made the guarantee, I thought I was taking pressure off our team. We had come off two AFC Championships in a row, so I was like, 'What's left?'"
Ryan figured he was putting the heat on himself. Later, some of his players told him it had placed an added burden on them. The game had become less fun. Ryan had long been a target of loathing for his self-aggrandizing personality. But now the guarantee was hanging around his team's neck, too.
"That certainly is not what I meant to happen," Ryan said. "Everybody's like, 'How could you not know that was going to happen?' Well, quite honestly I didn't. I thought it would just come down on me. A bunch of it did, but some of it came down on the players and that's why I won't make those guarantees anymore."
Don't worry. He's the same man, if several sizes smaller. Ryan has lost about 100 pounds since the 2010 AFC title game, when he weighed 348 pounds. He had lap band surgery a couple of years ago. He said he's lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol and is dedicated to living a healthier life. He convinced his twin brother Rob, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, to have the same surgery. Rob has lost 60 pounds.
Rex has lost 10 inches off his waistline. But he hasn't lost his signature swagger. OK, he isn't making any Super Bowl promises. But he believes this Jets team, his fourth, could be his best yet. Considering that he's coached two teams to the title game, you can draw your own conclusions.
"Look, I'm going to say this," Ryan said. "I think this has the potential to be the best team I've had since I've been here. Now I don't know how that's going to be in wins and losses. But I think it's a close football team. We understand complementary football, and I think that's a good thing. I feel great about the coaching staff that I have here, and I feel good about this football team."
Many Jets fans don't share his optimism. The offense didn't score a touchdown in the first three preseason games. They have a rookie, Austin Howard, at right tackle. Their receiving corps is suspect. Quarterback Mark Sanchez hasn't come close to justifying the Jets' decision to trade up and take him with the fifth overall pick in '09.
The Jets dumped offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and brought in Tony Sparano. On March 21, they traded for Tim Tebow. That's just what Sanchez needed for his fragile confidence - having the most intriguing and polarizing figure in the NFL as his backup.
Ryan talks about complementary football. Tebow was an odd complement for a divided locker room, a player who inspires conflicting feelings one way or the other. Exactly how he will be used remains a mystery, though Ryan has admitted that Tebow will run some Wildcat on Sunday.
You have to wonder. Ryan found out last season how a team's competitive psyche can be affected by outside influences. Wouldn't that make him think twice about bringing Tebow to the Jets? They're calling it a circus in New York. On the front page of Tuesday's New York Post, they ran an illustration of Ryan in a bozo outfit, red nose and all, driving a clown car with Tebow and Sanchez.
"It's kind of curious that we're a circus," Ryan said, "but we have gone to two championships in three years, and I think we've won as many games as all but six teams in this league over that span. So I think we're pretty decent. We can handle pretty much anything. We've done the (HBO) Hard Knocks thing; we can take on things.
"But the thing that we wanted to take on was a good football player," he said, "and that's what we added in Tim Tebow. It might be a circus to other people, but what we did was bring in an outstanding football player, a tremendous young man, and we think that's a real positive to have on our football team."
Maybe Tebow can help them win. Ryan still has a very good defense. The Jets have ranked first, third and fifth in the NFL on defense in his three seasons in New York. Ryan wants his team to rediscover the physical identity of his first two seasons. He'd like to run the ball more. The Jets averaged 275 rushing yards against the Bills in 2009-10, so get ready for some ground and pound.
One way or another, Ryan needs to win again. His bombast was refreshing when the Jets made the two title games. But the Giants are the kings of New York after winning another Super Bowl. Some of the luster has come off Ryan, along with the 100 pounds. The Giants have done it the bland, conventional way under Tom Coughlin. No one puts a clown suit on Coughlin.
There are critics who feel Ryan's job will be in jeopardy if the Jets miss the playoffs again. Losing a home opener against the Bills, who are expected to fight them for a playoff spot, would be a poor way to start. Still, Ryan seemed unconcerned about his immediate future on a New York TV show early this week.
"I know I'm a great coach," he said, "and what makes me a great coach is the guys that coach with me and the guys that play for me. It's hard for me to look at myself as not being successful. I don't see [losing his job] as a possibility."
Nowadays, that's as close as Ryan will come to a guarantee.
email: jsullivan@buffnews.com