Rex Ryan Talks Tannenbaum, Sparano, Pettine, Tebow, Sanchez, Locker Room Leaks, a New Mentality and His Strange Tattoo

January 9, 2013 – 5:45 am by Brad Gagnon

After a tumultuous fourth season with the New York Jets, Rex Ryan escaped the city for a sun-soaked vacation with his wife. While that was happening, a general manager search got underway while fellow coaches also cleared out their offices at team headquarters. Oh, and Ryan was pictured by the Paparazzi with a tattoo on his right arm that appeared to be honoring the quarterback he benched in 2012.

So when you ask why Ryan still has a job while axes fall on those around him, maybe stop and consider how entertaining and ridiculous the details of that introductory paragraph were.

Rex Ryan joined The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio New York to discuss the recent firings in New York, the Mark Sanchez situation, the general manager vacancy and his job status in 2013. He also spoke about a change in mentality he looks to bring to the Jets going forward, the Tim Tebow experiment, the delayed final press conference of the season, his post-season vacation, locker-room leaks and — of course — his tattoo with Mark Sanchez’s number on it.

On feeling somewhat responsible for the firings surrounding him and feeling lucky to still be the head coach:

“Quite honestly I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with my situation following that Buffalo game. But when Mr. Johnson came in that Monday and said that he’d like to keep me as the head coach, obviously there’s only 32 head-coaching jobs and obviously I’m honored to have one. But more than that, I feel responsible with Mike Tannenbaum being released, in particular, because we made so many decisions together. And like I’ve said before, it was always Jet decisions. And I just know how hard and how committed that Mike Tannenbaum was. We might not have made 100 percent, obviously, right decisions, but I know we made our fair share of good decisions. We made some mistakes also, but I really appreciated Mike Tannenbaum and he meant so much to me. And obviously I feel responsible for that as well. The fact that I’m still here moving forward, I’m excited about that, there’s no question. Mr. Johnson chose to keep me and I’m glad that he did. I said before, at the end of the year, that this is the only team that I wanted to coach. I don’t want to coach somebody else’s team or anything else. This is where my commitment is and that’s where it will always be.”

On if Mark Sanchez will start in 2013:

“I kind of look at it this way: Obviously there’s gonna be a lot of decisions that are gonna have to take place before we look specifically about a player. Obviously, the most important are the general manager and the offensive coordinator, type of system you’re going to run and all that. But I will say this: We have to improve at the quarterback position. We have to play a lot better at the quarterback position. And whether that’s Sanchez or somebody else, that’s a fact.”

On the next general manager likely being forced to keep him around:

“Hopefully the GM candidate sees that as a positive. Obviously if he sees that as a negative, then I’m sure he wouldn’t be interested. But hopefully he would see that as a positive.”

On if he feels he’ll be coaching to save his job next year:

“I don’t look at it that way. I look at this as a new start. … I know exactly where Woody is. Woody wants to win in the worst way, but he also wants to have sustainable success and he’s looking to be a perennial winner. And I think that’s the thing that we’re striving to do as an organization — always be in the mix. … If we’ve taken a step back to take a leap forward, then so be it. But to me, I gotta get this team ready to go. How many wins that is, I’m not sure. But to me, I’m excited about that challenge.”

On the team’s mentality going forward:

“I think I held this franchise back. And I’ve said that, I said it in my press conference, because my mentality — what the fans expect from me — is exactly that, that mentality we’re not going to be bullied. In fact, we’re going to bully your team, and we’re going to be a creative, attacking style of football team. And quite honestly, just wait til you watch us play defense this year, watch the way we play offense this year. That’s gonna be the mentality that we take.”

On why that changed in recent years:

“I say I held the team back because of that ground-and-pound mentality. The ground-and-pound mentality was perfect for us that first year because, quite honestly, that team, the best thing for us to do was to flat-out run it. … But I don’t want to be the guy that’s held this team back. And why can’t we have the same kind of mentality we take on defense throughout the entire team? … The kind of go-for-the-jugular-type mentality. I think I’ve failed at that. But that’s where I look at it, this is what I gotta do. … That’s the mentality that I think I have to generate through this team and I think that’s where I’ve fallen short. And I think that’s gonna be the mentality when you see this team go forward. … And as far as the brashness and all that type of stuff, that has to be it. One day, 15 years from now, I hope that when I walk out that door that I’m not going to have any regrets. This is who I am and this is how we’re gonna go about it and that’s exactly what we’re gonna do.”

On the Tim Tebow experiment not working out in 2012 and what’s to come:

“I think without question it never worked out this season to our expectations — without question. Where we go from here I’m not sure. Obviously there’s a lot of moves to be made before a decision like that will be finalized.”

On not speaking to the media for more than a week after the season ended:

“After the dismissal of Mike Tannenbaum, Woody was wanting to be the first guy to talk and so that’s what happened. I do what’s asked of me and that’s how I approach my deal. There’s plenty of times where I wish I never had to do a press conference or even this radio show sometimes, obviously after a loss and things. But I’ve never ducked a responsibility ever, but I do what’s asked of me. … And I understand as an organization that we wanted to put Woody out front.”

On the optics of being on vacation while guys were being fired:

“I knew I wasn’t going to be involved in that part of the [search for the next general manager] or anything else. Generally, what you do after a season, you have all your coaches, your GM, and you sit down and you discuss your players at length. And you do that. We did all of our preparation work. Every coach wrote up all their players, all those evaluations and things. But we don’t have an audience, and we’re right now getting ready to hire a GM. … I wanted to spend some time, like I do every year, by getting away from it and saying, ‘You know what? Let me take about four days and get away with my wife and then come back.’ I know that, obviously, when a GM’s in place, that the days are gonna be long and all those preparation things, so it was basically a chance to recharge a little bit, think of the season and then — like I do every year — come back and understand that moving forward I might not have time.”

On if defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was fired:

“He certainly wasn’t fired. Mike Pettine was not fired, OK? We were fortunate to have Mike Pettine here for four years. Mike Pettine wants to be a head coach in this league and he should be, and he will be one day and he’ll be a great one. But he wanted to pursue other opportunities. And when Mike and I sat down, he’s gonna have those opportunities, and that’s what he’s gonna do.”

On why offensive coordinator Tony Sparano was fired:

“Coach Sparano really did a tremendous job in a lot of areas for us. He really did. I thought we came back, we ran the ball hard, we got back to knocking some people off the football — that kind of mentality, very disciplined, one of the least-penalized offenses in the National Football League. There were a lot of positives. Unfortunately for Tony, when Santonio Holmes went down, that really was a huge, huge blow to our football team. Santonio was on pace to have almost a 1,200-yard receiving year. … And you have a Dustin Keller missing half the season. There were a lot of things that go into it. But at the end of the day, I said this is the direction that I want to go in, and it really isn’t Tony’s fault, but the direction that I wanted to go in was different and that’s why I ended up making the change.”

On the leaks coming from the locker room in recent years:

“No matter what organization you have, there could be someone saying something, a leak if you will. I don’t think you can 100 percent prevent it. I don’t understand. I really don’t understand a leak, because quite honestly I don’t know what that individual would gain by it. I think it only hurts your football team. … I believe that this will not be an issue next year. I certainly hope not. But I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

On having a tattoo with Mark Sanchez’s number on it:

“It was designed with an ‘8’ jersey. And I’m like, no sense putting an ‘8’ in there. We’d just gone to two championships, make it a ‘6’. I took no thought whatsoever into that. … He is going to have to play a lot better to make sure this thing stays this way and I don’t change the number.”

Listen to Rex Ryan on ESPN Radio New York here

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