Tomlin, Ryan succeed with different styles
In the hit Internet video of Bart Scott's angry rant after last week's win over New England, the New York Jets linebacker concludes by yelling "CAN'T WAIT!" referring to tonight's AFC Championship Game against the Steelers at Heinz Field.
Naturally, Rex Ryan couldn't resist. Addressing the media a few days later, the second-year Jets coach approached the podium wearing a serious expression, looked out and said, "All right, guys. I know, first off, that everybody CAN'T WAIT! for the injury report." The place cracked up.
Another head coach might have had a problem with Scott's outburst. Perhaps a stern talking-to or disciplinary action would have followed. Patriots coach Bill Belichick briefly benched his star receiver, Wes Welker, for slyly poking fun at Ryan in front of the cameras. What would have happened to Scott• The rack?
But Ryan and the Jets have embraced the speech, adapting "CAN'T WAIT!" as a catch phrase. Ryan loves Scott, luring him from the Baltimore Ravens last year. But mainly, it's Rex being Rex.
Where other coaches often seem publicly guarded and tightly wound, if not downright paranoid, the hulking, 48-year-old Ryan is playful, passionate, animated, brash, outspoken, profane and thoroughly entertaining. He is the polar opposite of, say, Tom Coughlin, the icy head coach of the New York Giants with whom the Jets compete for local attention, if not affection.
Last week Giants safety Antrel Rolle said he believes the reason the Jets are still playing (and his team is not) is that Ryan's style promotes greater team chemistry. In his first two years, the Jets have twice reached the AFC title game.
Ryan's counterpart today, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, seems to provide a marked contrast in style and appearance. Ryan fights a constant caloric battle and often pokes fun at his girth. Tomlin, 10 years younger, is fit and trim, bearing more than a slight resemblance to actor Omar Epps, who once made People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive" list. If anyone would play Ryan on screen, the pre-diet John Goodman comes to mind.
Tomlin, in his fourth season as head coach, displays his own brand of passion and intensity, and sometimes a quick flash of dry humor. Like Ryan, he frequently interacts with his players, some of whom are close to his age. He will publicly emote on occasion, but in the end, he is more old-school and way less Rex.
"Mike T is not as bold and (doesn't) put himself out there like coach Ryan," veteran Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "But they both get the job done, so you can't argue with the results. Mike T is a little bit more laid-back."
Tomlin, who can be blunt like Ryan but usually in private, rarely generates controversy. Ryan inspires battle lines. To some, mainly those who root against the Jets, he is the toothy, cocky, overweight blowhard who cussed up a storm on the HBO series "Hard Knocks."
Others, of course, love the guy, especially because he wins.
The two coaches appear to be radically different, and not just because Tomlin has a Super Bowl ring and Ryan is obsessed with winning one.
Or are they• For one thing, they seem to genuinely admire one another, in an "Odd Couple" kind of way.
"You look at our backgrounds, we're similar," said Ryan, whose father, Buddy, was an assistant with the Super Bowl-winning Jets in 1968, later the defensive coordinator for the 1985 Chicago Bears championship team and then a head coach in Philadelphia and Arizona.
"We're defensive guys," Ryan said. "We both have incredible opportunities. We know that. I just want to win a Super Bowl like he has. Talk about respect. I have a huge amount of respect for Mike Tomlin."
Back atcha' big fella.
"I love Rex," Tomlin said. "Rex has a lot of fun with (the media), but when you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach. He has the pulse of his football team. He does a great job of motivating them, is very sound schematically in all three phases, and his glass is always half full."
If there is such thing as a "player's coach," both would seem to be it. Both evoke uncommon devotion. Part of what made Scott so angry was the perceived criticism of Ryan.
"You act like Rex is a buffoon," Scott shouted to the world after the Jets' win over the Patriots. "No one says anything about other coaches' weight. You don't hear people talk about (Philadelphia) coach Andy Reid like that. I wanted this game for Rex. I wanted it so you can give him respect. Shut up. Just shut up. Rex is a great coach, and he would have been if we won today or not."
Now that's loyalty.
"That atmosphere around here is almost like the atmosphere you get when you play for a high school coach," Jets offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "Where anything (Ryan) tells you, you'll run through the wall to make it happen. He coaches with a lot of passion, and he's not afraid to put how he feels on the line.
"I think because of that visibility and because he's such a passionate coach, it's easy to follow him. We followed him when he first got here, and it's led to a lot of success."
The testimonials pour forth. From fullback Tony Richardson, a 16-year veteran: "Rex has a unique ability to motivate people. He's a great guy and a great coach."
From cornerback Antonio Cromartie: "He's just himself, and he wants everyone else to be themselves. He has our back, and we're gonna have his."
From quarterback Mark Sanchez: "Even in the toughest situations, he's always told me he's never wavered in his confidence. It's taught me to never waver. ... He's taught me so much about playing in this league and being a tough competitor and a fighter. It's fun to play for him, and you learn a lot from him."
The same sort of thing comes from the Steelers about Tomlin.
"You can see why he got hired," veteran defensive end Aaron Smith said. "He's very well spoken, he's easy to talk to, he's smart, he's confident. If I interviewed the man, I'd hire him, too."
Smith described Tomlin as "very charismatic," an unusual choice of words for a head football coach in the NFL.
Said Farrior, "It's easy. We take his words from when he's in the meeting room and go from there. Everybody listens to him, everybody understands what the situation is. He really doesn't have to say too much."
Similar, yet different. Same results.