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Rex Ryan: Just another bland interview

By Jerry Sullivan

I used to look forward to Rex Ryan's conference calls with the Buffalo media before Bills games. Ryan was a flamboyant, outrageous presence in his early years with the Jets. He didn't care what people thought of him. You never knew what the guy might say. That defiant attitude was part of his team's persona when the Jets reached two straight AFC title games. 

No more. Nowadays, Ryan plays it low-key with the media. He utters the usual bland cliches that you get from almost any NFL coach: They respect the Bills. They're focusing on this game and not looking forward. Blah blah blah. That was Ryan's approach to this Sunday's game at the Ralph. I couldn't even get Ryan to speculate about his team's surprising playoff prospects.

At 5-4, the Jets are currently alone in the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. All three teams that also had four losses going into last week (Miami, San Diego, Tennessee) lost. So Rex, are you surprised to be in that position, in a playoff spot after nine weeks?

"I'm not getting into it," Ryan said via conference call late Wednesday morning. "I just know we have Buffalo on Sunday. That's the entire focus."

You sound like the other coaches now, I told Ryan. 

"I don't care what I sound like," he said. "I just know that we're not good enough to look down the road. We have to look at what's right in front of us, and that's where it is. We've been an inconsistent football team. We've been up and down the whole season. Literally, we've been win one, lose one, win one, lose one ... but we did lose to the bye week last week."

The Jets have alternated wins and losses all nine weeks of the season. The pattern says "loss" in Orchard Park on Sunday. But as Ryan suggested, maybe the bye week can bump the pattern ahead to a 'W'.

Ryan isn't looking ahead. He wants to keep his Jets grounded and humble, which is more appropriate with this  year's Jets, an inexperienced bunch who were picked by a lot of observers to finish dead last in the NFL this season.

"We're a young football team," Ryan said. "We have seven new starters on defense, six new starters on offense and five rookies starting. This isn't like a veteran team that can look down the road. Bull, we're looking at the Buffalo Bills, period. This is a team that really had Kansas City beat and almost had New England beat, that lost to Cincinnati in overtime. We got blown out by Cincinnati. So we know what kind of team Buffalo is, and certainly our entire focus is on this team only."

Spoken like a true NFL coach. Really, if you disguised the voice, it could have been Bill Belichick.

Bill Parcells narrates 'some pretty powerful stuff' on coaching

By Tim Graham

Over the decades, Bill Parcells has compiled a collection of inspirational reading materials.

"Stuff that I like," the Hall of Fame coach says over the phone while sifting through it.

Parcells has kept General MacArthur's "Creed for Youth," an Abraham Lincoln speech, Bear Bryant's principles, Warren Buffett quotes, "Casey at the Bat" and "The Ballad of Yukon Jake."

He doesn't remember where he obtained perhaps his most treasured clip. It's from a book called "The Coaches." He doesn't know the author, although a deep online search returns the name Bill Libby. It was published in 1972.

"It's something I've had with me for 40 years," Parcells says. "I don't know how I got it. I just came upon this, and I have it laminated."

Parcells calls the essay he's about to read to me "the truth" about what it means to be a coach, a grueling profession that's not easily understood.

"This really is it," Parcells says. "I have looked at it hundreds of times over the years. It's just something that kind of hit me. You live alone. It's the loneliest."

Parcells notes that he has tried to warn all of the assistants who've worked for him and struck out on their own as head coaches -- Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton among them -- the job isn't so glamorous.

I've called to Parcells to speak about an exhausting profession that can wreck minds and bodies. An in-depth feature with comments from Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone, former coach Marty Schottenheimer, sports psychologist Cal Botterill and Parcells will run in Sunday's paper.

Denver Broncos coach John Fox had an aortic valve replacement this week. Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed with a mini-stroke at halftime Sunday night.

Parcells had bypass surgery in 1992, when he was 50 and in between coaching the New York Giants and New England Patriots. Mike Ditka suffered a massive heart attack at 49 while coaching the Chicago Bears in 1988. Dan Reeves had in-season heart procedures at 46 and 54 years old, the latter a quadruple bypass.

The pressures, guilt, fatigue and burnout of coaching contribute to some tortured souls.

"Now, the rewards are pretty great if you're successful," Parcells says of being a coach. "But success really is never final in this business. Failure can be."

And now Parcells wants to share the essay because he thinks it can help him explain the life of a head coach better than he can.

"This is some pretty powerful stuff in my opinion," Parcells says.

He begins (click on the audio link below to hear it in Parcells' own words) ...

"He is called coach. It is a difficult job, and there is no clear way to succeed at it. One cannot copy another who was a winner for there seems to be some subtle, secret chemistry of personality that enables a person to lead successfully, and no one really knows what it is.

"Those who have succeeded and those who have failed represent all kinds -- young and old, inexperienced and experienced, hard and soft, tough and gentle, good-natured and foul-tempered, proud and profane, articulate and inarticulate, even dedicated and casual. Most are dedicated, some more than others. Some are smarter than others. But intelligence is not enough. All want to win, but some want to win more than others. And just wanting to win is not enough in any event. Even winning is often not enough. Losers almost always get fired, but winners get fired, too.

"He's out in the open, being judged publicly almost every day or night for six to seven or eight months a year by those who may or may not be qualified to judge him. And every victory and every defeat is recorded constantly in print or on the air and periodically totaled up.

"The coach has no place to hide. He cannot just let the job go for a little while or do a bad job and assume no one will notice, as most of us can. He cannot satisfy everyone. Seldom can he even satisfy very many. Rarely can he even satisfy himself. If he wins once, he must win the next time, too. They plot victories, they suffer defeats, endure criticism from within and without. They neglect their families, they travel endlessly and live alone in a spotlight, surrounded by others.

"Theirs may be the worst profession -- unreasonably demanding and insecure and full of unrelenting pressures. Why do they put up with it? Why do they do it? Having seen them hired and hailed as geniuses in gaudy, party-like press conferences, and then having seen them fired with pat phrases such as 'fool' or 'incompetent,' I've wondered about them. Having seen them exalted in victory and depressed by defeat, I have sympathized with them. Having seen some broken by the jobs and others die from it, one is moved to admire them and hope that someday the world will learn to understand them."

Bill Belichick's Patriots are 13-4 against rookie quarterbacks

By Tim Graham

Read the rest of this blog entry with knowledge that Kevin Kolb beat the New England Patriots last year.

That said, Boston Herald reporter Jeff Howe produced some interesting data about the Patriots coach Bill Belichick's success against rookie quarterbacks in light of Wednesday's announcements from their first two opponents.

The Patriots will face Buffalo Bills rookie EJ Manuel on Sunday and New York Jets rookie Geno Smith four nights later.

Since Belichick became Patriots coach in 2000, they have gone 13-4 against rookie quarterbacks. That .765 winning percentage is nearly 200 percentage points above the league's combined record against rookie quarterbacks over that span and 42 percentage points higher than the Patriots' record against non-rookie quarterbacks.

One of the Patriots' losses was last year, when Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes in a 24-23 Seattle Seahawks home victory.

Howe also passed along rookie quarterbacks have completed 53.9 percent of their passes for an average of 206.3 yards a game with 16 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.

Versus rookies making their NFL debuts, the Patriots are 4-0.

Bill Belichick preparing for a Jets defense Sunday at The Ralph

By Tim Graham

When it comes to strategizing for the Buffalo Bills' new-look defense, Bill Belichick won't have to take a stab in the dark.

Belichick submitted his New England Patriots have been preparing for this Bills defense twice a year since 2009, when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was with the New York Jets.

The uniforms and personnel will be changed, but Belichick doesn't sound like someone without a guess.

"This looks a lot like the Jets defense, just different, different players, and schematically it's similar to what we've seen from the Jets," Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call with Patriots reporters. "This year, Buffalo looks like the Jets schematically."

Continue reading "Bill Belichick preparing for a Jets defense Sunday at The Ralph" »

Bill Belichick on Donald Jones: 'He's a young, tough kid'

By Tim Graham

Donald Jones' versatility is what made him appealing to the New England Patriots.

The Buffalo Bills declined to bring back the wide receiver, and the Patriots signed him to a three-year contract last week.

"We felt like he would be able to be competitive on our football team at his position," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this morning at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "He's played in the kicking game. He's had production on both the inside and the outside as a receiver.

Continue reading "Bill Belichick on Donald Jones: 'He's a young, tough kid'" »

Why it's important Bills clear room for some of Mike Pettine's Jets

By Tim Graham

When Rex Ryan left the Baltimore Ravens to become head coach of the New York Jets in 2009 and Mike Pettine came along as defensive coordinator, a significant part of their master plan was to sign former Raven defenders who could communicate the system to their new teammates.

The top two targets were linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard, who speak the same language Ryan and Pettine do. Scott and Leonhard made the on-field calls and explained the adjustments.

The Jets' defense thrived right away.

A similar transition could be in the works for the Buffalo Bills. A few weeks after hiring Pettine to be their defensive coordinator, the Bills today released linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson.

Continue reading "Why it's important Bills clear room for some of Mike Pettine's Jets" »


About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |