Game Time: Rex Ryan -- The Next (Really) Big Reality TV Star (w/ video)
So how many Rex Ryan f-bombs did it take for Houston Texans' owner Bob McNair to realize that "Yeah, HBO probably made the right choice in going with the Jets for Hard Knocks this season."
Rex Ryan: A (chubby) star is born
Reportedly, earlier this year, the Texans were one of the teams under serious consideration for the groundbreaking HBO series which each season chronicles one NFL team's trials and tribulations during training camp. As a viewer, you see inside coaches' meetings, practices, and the players' free time activities. Like any good reality show, heroes and villains are developed.
Clearly, one episode in, the workmanlike, understated Texans would have been the Discovery Channel to the Jets'...well, to the Jets' curse-laden, action-packed HBO. The quiet greatness of Andre Johnson and the "aw shucks" demeanor of Gary Kubiak can't hold a candle to the drama of a Darrelle Revis holdout, the legendary hyper-fertility of Antonio Cromartie, and the "fuck you" demeanor of Ryan.
And Joe Namath. I mean....wow.
But the breakout star of Hard Knocks this season is Ryan, the outspoken second-year and second-generation head coach.
If you're a regular reader of this blog or listener to my show, you know I fancy myself somewhat of a Sopranos historian. If you know the background of that show's casting, then you know that the role of Tony Soprano was actually auditioned for by several prominent actors, including a couple that found work in other roles on the show -- namely Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) and David Proval (Richie Aprile).
But in the end, could anyone else be Tony Soprano other than James Gandolfini? No. You knew it from the beginning of the pilot episode when he described his line of work to Dr. Jennifer Melfi in their first meeting all the way until the final dinner at Holsten's in 2007 when the screen went dark. James Gandolfini was Tony Soprano, Tony Soprano was James Gandolfini.
While Hard Knocks is not fiction like The Sopranos, there is a level of character development that occurs on the show. Ask Martellus Bennett. So to say that Jets head coach Rex Ryan may be the breakout television character of the season by the time Hard Knocks is over this summer is not a stretch at all. At the very least, the first episode was a tour de force by Ryan whereby he's almost creating a "Gandolfini situation" for future head coaches on future seasons of the show, where you just can't envision any other "actor playing the role of head coach."
Certainly, he's setting an entertainment standard that plunders anything that would have come from Kubiak....
In short, if Ryan is Gandolfini cast as Tony Soprano, then Kubiak would have been like casting Ben Stein. (To be clear, if Kubiak wins a Super Bowl, he can be a mute for all I care; I'm merely assessing the entertainment value of the respective coaches as a television viewer.)
Former Texans defensive end Anthony Weaver used to be a frequent guest on my radio show when he was with the team in 2007 and 2008. Prior to coming to the Texans in 2006, Weaver was a Baltimore Raven and Rex Ryan was his position coach.
Weaver was one of the most forthright, honest players you'll ever talk to. If he liked and respected someone, he would tell you; if he didn't, he would also tell you. In the dozen or so times he's been on my show, Weaver's highest praise and biggest smile was always reserved for mentions of Rex Ryan.
Weaver gushed about how simultaneously motivational and fun Ryan was to play for. He talked about the time that Ryan had all the defensive linemen bring in their high school highlight films and they basically had a "movie night" that became a contest to see whose film was the most impressive (team building, people). He remembered how Ryan would use "game show" style interactive trivia with his position group as a means of film study -- a creative, fun way to break the monotony of trying to game-plan for intricate zone-blocking schemes.
Weaver is now a graduate assistant at the University of Florida under Urban Meyer. I texted him earlier today and asked him if he'd seen the first episode of Hard Knocks; not surprisingly, with the grind of Gator training camp underway, he hadn't seen it yet.
Even less surprisingly, when I asked him how big an influence Ryan was to his getting into coaching, Weaver said his former position coach was at the very top of the list. "Number 1," he texted. Weaver also said that a lot of what he preaches technique-wise to his players now, and especially a lot of the tactics he uses to motivate his guys, he has "borrowed" from Rex Ryan.
Somewhere, I'm hoping Weaver gets a chance to give the same motivational speech to the Gators that Ryan did to the Jets in the video above, replacing Revis with Tebow.
"Hey guys, we don't have Tebow in this building right now. Does it matter that Tebow's not here? God damn...he's pretty fuckin' good. He's pretty good. But you know what? It's not about one guy...it's about leading the country in fuckin' wins...."
Hard Knocks is underway, and I'm glad that it's Rex Ryan and the Jets that we're getting to see. Indeed, this is one battle I'm glad the Texans lost.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.