By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
Contrary to popular opinion, Rex Ryan is a great coach. The much-maligned Ryan was fired from his position as head coach of the Buffalo Bills after an overtime loss in Week 16 to the Miami Dolphins. It was only his second season in Buffalo after a six-year stint with the New York Jets.
Ryan gets blamed for extending Buffalo’s playoff drought to 17 years, but a two-year window is an awfully short period of time to grade out an NFL head coach. Ryan’s Bills finished with an 8-8 record in 2015, and were 7-8 this season before Ryan’s firing. While those are not improvements over the 9-7 squad from 2014, Ryan can hardly be blamed.
This is a quarterback driven league. While there are notable exceptions to the rule, the majority of playoff teams have a star-caliber quarterback. That goes double for teams that are perennial playoff contenders, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Green Bay Packers, who all have elite players at the quarterback position.
Ryan has never had a star-caliber quarterback. With the Jets, he made Mark Sanchez look like a good player for a couple of years before his lack of talent finally caught up to him. Sanchez took the Ryan-led Jets to two AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010, but has failed to make an impact since. He had some inflated stats in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly as a backup before failing to beat out Trevor Siemian in an open competition in Denver prior to this season.
With Buffalo, Ryan inherited a first-round bust in E.J. Manuel, who finished the 2014 season with a quarterback rating of 80.3, 56th in the NFL. To create competition, the Bills signed former Baltimore Raven Tyrod Taylor, a career backup, who ended up beating out Manuel for the starting job. Taylor had some good performances over the past two seasons, but ultimately was benched for the final week of the season this year and the Bills will undoubtedly bring in someone else to compete for the job this offseason.
The Bills defense also regressed under Ryan, but so did the personnel. Safety Jairus Byrd bolted in free agency; pass rusher Mario Williams got hurt and then fled for Miami; defensive linemen Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams have battled suspensions and injuries; and Ryan’s top two defensive players in the draft this year—pass rusher Shaq Lawson and linebacker Reggie Ragland—spent most of the season on the injury report.
Ryan has always been a player’s coach, and has made a career of getting the most out of the personnel he has. Under Ryan, players have thrived and journeymen have found homes. Given the right kind of support, and an above-average quarterback, Ryan is exactly the kind of coach that can lead your team to the Super Bowl.
Ryan can sometimes turn people off with his bravado and his bigger-than-life personality, but I see a guy who is willing to put himself out there for his team, and someone with unwavering support for the guys that fight for him week in and week out.
If I ran the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Los Angeles Rams, I would be on the phone right now offering Ryan a chance to come in and turn my team around. Both of these teams need new coaches, both have talent on the defensive side of the ball, and both teams have young quarterbacks who have at least as much potential as the players Ryan has been given in the past.
Ryan doesn’t need a lot to field a productive team. He just needs support from the front office and some patience as the team tries to find a quarterback. If he gets another opportunity, Buffalo may look back on this decision and regret getting rid of a great coach as they go up against him with another squad.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.