FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — On a Black Monday on which five NFL head coaches had been relieved of their duties by 1 p.m. on the East Coast, the one coach who was on arguably the hottest seat of all during the 2013 season was seen walking around his team’s practice facility with a bit of an extra hop in his step.
Rex Ryan, less than 24 hours after being assured by New York Jets owner Woody Johnson that he’d be back for the 2014 season, survived another Black Monday, despite his team’s missing the playoffs for a third straight season. If the video footage of the team’s reaction to the news on Sunday wasn’t enough proof of the Jets players’ affection for their embattled coach, their words on Monday certainly were.
Coming off an inspired two-game win streak to close out the season and an unlikely 8-8 record, both veterans and rookies were upbeat about their coach’s employment status. “When we found out, it was pure joy in the locker,” quarterback Geno Smith said Monday. “We were all happy for him, and also selfishly, I’m happy to have my coach back because we really enjoy playing for him and we just look forward to the future here.”
“Rex is a really great coach, a hard-working guy,” added the 2013 second-round pick. “We have some similar characteristics, so we hit it off there. Just to be able to play for a guy like Rex, to be able to be under a staff like this means a lot to me because I know how hard they work. I know how much time and effort they put into this; we just want to repay them as players by playing well on Sundays.”
Smith’s positivity echoed a team-wide tone that you’d expect to hear from a Super Bowl-winning squad the day after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, not one that failed to qualify for the postseason. But the love, support and sense of optimism sifting through the Jets locker room Monday was hard to ignore.
"He was back to his old jolly self,” wide receiver David Nelson said, describing Ryan’s demeanor Monday. “Back to being Rex and being the funny, charismatic guy he is. You could tell there was a little extra swagger to him today.”
“[Ryan] basically said, ‘Next year, we don’t want to be in this position. We want to be getting ready for a game this week,’" Nelson added. Teammate Jeremy Kerley said that Ryan’s message to the team Monday was to "come back and be ready to make a run at the playoffs."
Ryan will get that chance, and according to multiple media reports late Monday evening, he is set to sign a one-year contract extension through the 2015 regular season, as well.
However, should getting an extension done drag on, could it threaten the early-offseason harmony? FOX Sports’ Mike Garafolo explains why it could:
Contract talk aside, Monday wasn’t a day for doom and gloom in Florham Park. There was excitement, energy and hope in the air. An 8-8 record with a depleted roster was enough to save Rex Ryan’s job and ensure him a place on the sideline in 2014.
Celebrations like the one we saw in the Jets locker room on Sunday don’t come often for .500 teams in the NFL.
You likely only get one of those – if ever – in a coaching career. Expectations will be far greater for the Jets and their head coach in 2014.