The New York Jets fired head coach Rex Ryan on Monday after six seasons with the franchise, but the 52-year-old likely won’t be out of work for long. Ryan’s defensive acumen and fiery personality are expected to attract several suitors this offseason.
Ryan’s departure from New York was a foregone conclusion after a disastrous 4-12 season that placed the Jets in the AFC East cellar and gave the franchise its worst record since 2007. Spotty play from the quarterback position and a lack of depth in the Jets’ normally stalwart secondary sealed Ryan’s fate, as well as that of general manager John Idzik, who was also fired Monday.
“Just understand that I’m not afraid of anything,” Ryan said Sunday of his impending dismissal, according to the New York Times. “I’m not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that.”
Ryan has good reason to remain optimistic. He experienced postseason success at the front end of his tenure with the Jets, including back-to-back berths in the AFC Championship game. He ran a tenacious Jets defense that ranked top-10 in the NFL in five of Ryan’s six seasons in New York and never finished out of the top 12. And he further developed his reputation as a “player’s coach” who commanded strong loyalty in his locker room.
Several NFL teams with vacancies at head coach could look to hire Ryan as the new face of their franchise. He is also expected to have options away from the gridiron. Here’s a look at possible destinations for Ryan in 2015:
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons are arguably the most logical destination for Ryan in 2015. Atlanta just fired Mike Smith, who led the team to four playoff appearances in his first five years before a pair of disappointing campaigns. The franchise already has a top-end quarterback in Matt Ryan – which covers for Rex Ryan’s inability to develop young quarterbacks – and a premier offensive weapons in wide receiver Julio Jones.
Atlanta’s primary issues are on defense. The Falcons struggled to adjust to their new 3-4 defensive scheme in 2014, allowing nearly 400 yards per game to opposing offenses. Ryan specializes in the 3-4 and can inject a much-needed shot of aggression and technical know-how to the paper-thin unit. CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora has already identified Ryan as a potential fit in Atlanta.
Chicago Bears: Considered a potential Super Bowl contender before this season, the Bears’ 2014 campaign quickly devolved into a mess of turnovers, defensive meltdowns and behind-the-scenes blowups en route to a 5-11 record. Head coach Marc Trestman seemed to lose his players’ confidence and was fired on Black Monday.
But Chicago remains an attractive option for Ryan. Despite a career-worst showing this season, quarterback Jay Cutler has shown himself to be capable of running a high-level offense in the past. Running back Matt Forte and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey are each considered marquee talents at their positions.
Like the Falcons, the Bears were among the NFL’s worst-ranked defenses this season. Ryan has both the leadership skills to regain control of Chicago’s dysfunctional locker room and the chops to turn around a struggling defense.
New England Patriots: The worst-case scenario for Jets fans would have Ryan joining with his longtime rival, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, to run New England’s defense. Several pundits have already called for the Patriots to hire Ryan, who established himself, during his tenure with the Jets, as one of the few defensive coaches capable of routinely stopping Tom Brady.
But rest easy, Jets fans. It’s unlikely that Ryan would be willing to defer to Belichick, who plays in active role in running New England’s defense. In addition, early indications suggest Ryan wouldn’t be interested in anything except a head coaching position. CBS broadcaster Andrew Catalon said Sunday that Ryan told him “it’s a head coach or nothing” scenario this offseason, according to NJ.com.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are unlikely to retain the services of interim head coach Tony Sparano and could provide Ryan with a “blank slate” to rebuild their long-struggling franchise. Oakland has always gravitated toward outspoken, fiery coaches, and Ryan has personality in spades. The team also has potential on defense, with budding talents at linebacker in Khalil Mack and cornerback in D.J. Hayden.
On the other side, the Raiders haven’t achieved a winning record since 2002 and are committed to Derek Carr at quarterback, who was wildly inconsistent this year as a rookie. If he accepts a job with Oakland, Ryan will spend at least a season or two in the throes of the team’s rebuilding process.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers head coaching job is arguably the league’s most coveted position in the wake of the team’s divorce from former coach Jim Harbaugh. San Francisco is ready to win now – they made the NFC Championship game in three of the last four seasons and are loaded with talent on both sides of the football. Ryan would salivate over the talents of San Francisco’s front seven, which includes All-Pro talents in defensive lineman Justin Smith and linebackers Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Better yet, the defense already utilizes Ryan’s preferred 3-4 base.
But quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled in 2014, a possible deterrent for a head coach who was undone by poor quarterback play in New York. San Francisco has yet to publicly express interest in Ryan.
Television Analyst: If Ryan can’t land a head coach job, look for him to end up in working in television as an analyst or broadcaster. Several networks, including ESPN and Fox Sports 1, have already expressed interest in hiring him if he is interested. Moreover, Ryan has already hired a media agent to explore a potential move to television, NFL.com reports.
“He pretty much has everything TV networks would look for. He has a personality, he’s not shy about his opinions, and he’s a colorful character,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman told Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch. “I think he would be successful whether it is in studio or doing games. When I close my eyes and listen to him I hear a little bit of John Madden in him. There is going to be a lot of interest in Rex if that is what he wants to do.”