Ryan: 'I know I'm a great coach'

OWINGS MILLS -- Rex Ryan speaks in blunt, plainspoken statements, and he's never afraid to tell the truth instead of clinging to a safer, politically correct answer. The Baltimore Ravens' bulky veteran defensive coordinator has been known to enjoy a pouch or two of chewing tobacco, and a hearty meal.

Ryan is totally comfortable in his own thick skin, perpetually scruffy beard and amiable, genuine nature.

And Ryan's bold personality has occasionally hurt him on the competitive NFL job interview circuit, a fickle environment where he hasn't always met organizations' central casting ideal to run their football teams.

Over the past two years, Ryan has shrugged off being snubbed for potential head coaching jobs with the San Diego Chargers, Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins.

Now, he seems primed to possibly land a job in this hiring cycle as the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions are extremely interested in him with the Rams expected to meet with Ryan as soon as Sunday after the Ravens' AFC divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday at LP Field.

"I'm not real good at it, I don't think," Ryan said of the interview process. "I'm not blessed with a silver tongue like some of these guys. What you see is what you get. I think, I know I'm a great football coach. I know I'm a leader of men, especially guys that play this game, and I think that's probably my edge over other people."

The son of gruff, fiery former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, Ryan is the architect of the league's second-ranked defense.

And Ryan, 46, definitely prefers being too busy this week to concentrate on how he'll sell himself to potential future employers. Other prospective coaches have gotten to make their case before Ryan since he hasn't been granted permission to interview for jobs until after the Ravens' playoff game, but that doesn't bother him.

"I'd much rather be in our situation," Ryan said. "I was in the other situation last year and never had a whole lot of momentum going."

A year ago, Ryan was practically in career limbo following a last-place season as he went on interviews with the Ravens, Falcons and Dolphins before being retained by new head coach John Harbaugh as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator and receiving a hefty raise. When Ryan arrived for his interview with the Ravens' search committee last year, he confidently parked his red pickup truck in the designated head coach's space marked 'HC,' in the parking lot at team headquarters.

However, he got much closer to getting the Atlanta job that ultimately went to former Baltimore assistant Mike Smith, former Ravens coach Brian Billick's brother-in-law. Now, Ryan has overseen the Ravens leading the NFL with 34 takeaways this season with free safety Ed Reed leading the league with nine interceptions during the regular season. And he's focused solely on his preparations for the Titans' strong running game led by Chris Johnson and LenDale White and cautious quarterback Kerry Collins.

"My future is right now, and that's to get this team ready to play the Titans and do all we can to beat the Titans," Ryan said. "I've worked all my life to get ready for opportunities to become a head coach. I'm not going to be a phony.

"I'm going to be myself, and, hopefully, it's good enough for somebody. If it's not, then I'll stay here and coach this defense like I've been doing."

There haven't been any complaints about how Ryan has orchestrated keeping the flame lit on a tradition of defensive excellence that dates back to the record-setting 2000 edition that spearheaded the Ravens' Super Bowl championship. In Ryan's decade with the team, including six years as the defensive line coach where he used to supervise Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett, before taking over as defensive boss in 2005, Ryan has helped the Ravens rank first in nearly every single defensive category dating back to 1999 when he arrived in Baltimore.

"Coaching-wise, Rex is one thing, but as a man when you try to talk to him, he's just like a father," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You can get anything from him. Just being around Rex, being around his knowledge, being around his passion for the game, makes it kind of special to have him as a defensive coordinator."

Since 1999, no team has had more interceptions (212), interceptions returned for touchdowns (29), and Baltimore has led the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (87.3) and points allowed per game (17.1), takeaways (337) and third down conversion percentage (33.9).

"He's a great teacher and he has a great football mind," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "What's in my mind the most is that I can't remember being around a guy that is so team-oriented. He's a tremendous man to work with."

Ryan is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Marvin Lewis and Mike Nolan, who became head coaches after running the Ravens' defense. Plus, former Baltimore assistant coaches Smith and Jack Del Rio have ascended the ladder to the head coach's office as well.

"I think I'm twice as prepared to become a head coach than I was last year, I really do," Ryan said. "I think being under John and really working with him, John has really allowed me to experience what he's experienced.

"He's made me part of the process of how we're dealing with things, whether it's a discipline issue, how we set up practice, all that kind of stuff. It's been great because I think he's an outstanding leader and I've been fortunate to be in the spot this year that I've been in."

As far as his players are concerned, Ryan is more than qualified to be elevated to a higher post. Not that they want to see him go, of course.

"He's put the work in and everybody that's been a defensive coordinator here has gone on to be a head coach," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "So, he's next in line, I believe."

Shutting down the top-seeded Titans' offense and propelling Baltimore into the AFC title game against the winner of the Pittsburgh Steelers-San Diego Chargers second-round game would definitely build some more buzz to Ryan's candidacy.

If Ryan gets passed over again for whatever reason, his players would be sympathetic and they would welcome him back with zeal. Remember, the majority of the Ravens' locker room wanted Ryan to be named head coach after Billick was fired by team owner Steve Bisciotti after last year's 5-11 disaster.

"If he left, it would be hurtful in this building," Rolle said. "We love Rex and we would hate to see him go."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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