AFC rookie coaches utilize opposite styles
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jim Caldwell is as comfortable being a soft-spoken offensive wizard as Rex Ryan is as a brash defensive guru.
Like their styles or not, the contrasting rookie coaches have their teams in the AFC Championship Game with a Super Bowl berth on the line Sunday.
"You might try to draw parallels between Rex and I, or our two teams, in how they handle different situations," said Caldwell, the Indianapolis Colts' coach. "The great thing about this game is that it requires an immense amount of authenticity, so you have to be who you are."
That's what Ryan has been saying since the day he was hired as the New York Jets' coach a year ago. Yes, he'll say what's on his mind and make some cringe with his confident and sometimes-outlandish statements. Ryan is also quick to point out that this is who he's always been, and he's not changing now.
"I think you better believe in yourself, you better believe in your football team," Ryan said. "That's all it is. There's never a disrespectful thing. I don't try to say anything disrespectful to the opponents that we're playing."
Ryan's daily news conferences are guaranteed to get at least one chuckle. With the AFC Championship Game two days away, Ryan was still as loose as ever Friday, poking fun at himself — as always.
"I always go into men's stores and I'm like, 'Where's your men's section at?"' the rotund Ryan said. "It's like, 'What do you mean• We have double-X.' And, I'm like, 'Yeah, who is that supposed to fit?' It's tough."
Meanwhile, Caldwell takes a less-colorful, more humble approach, staying away from controversy. Instead, he's looked upon by his players as a nice guy who communicates well, but in his own low-key way.
"These seasons are too long to pretend," Caldwell said. "The emotion involved in this game will strip away all that veneer, and you are who you are. That's who we are. That's how we've always handled things. Maybe someone chooses to do things differently, but that's because it serves them, and that's what they feel comfortable with."
Don't mistake Caldwell's laid-back personality for not being competitive, though.
"One of the things he has preached to us this year is that we are going to be the hunters," Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. "No matter what someone else has to play for, no matter what attitude, bravado, whatever it is they bring in here, we are going to be the hunters."
That certainly was the case earlier this season, when Caldwell led the Colts to a 14-0 start. His only bout with controversy came when he pulled Peyton Manning and his other stars against the Jets with a perfect season still in their sights.
"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Caldwell said. "Our objective was to put us in the best position to win the first game of the playoffs. That was key."
Brackett describes Caldwell as a funny guy, someone who uses one-liners in team meetings. Tight end Dallas Clark thinks Caldwell's demeanor was perfect for the Colts after years with a similar guy in Tony Dungy.
"We love it," Clark said. "That's kind of what we've been used to with Coach Dungy. It's kind of been the norm around here, the coach that's on the quieter side. I think guys respond well. The transition from Coach Dungy to Coach Caldwell was pretty easy for us."
Jets tight end Ben Hartsock played parts of three seasons with the Colts, back when Caldwell was the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach under Dungy.
"Coach Caldwell comes from the Dungy lineage, so there's much more of a level, no ups, no downs, even-keel throughout the whole time," Hartsock said. "Rex is obviously a little more boisterous."
The contrasts don't end there. Ryan paid his dues working at low-level colleges before becoming an assistant under his father, Buddy, with the Arizona Cardinals. His stock rose when he helped turn Baltimore into a defensive force, but struck out on interviews for head coaching jobs until the Jets hired him.
Caldwell took a different path, working as an assistant at big-time colleges under guys like Joe Paterno at Penn State, Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville and Bill McCartney at Colorado. He also was a head coach for eight seasons at Wake Forest before joining Dungy in Tampa Bay and following him to Indianapolis in 2002.
"Both teams have earned this opportunity, and it's just going to be a great game," Ryan said. "It's going to be a great matchup."