Mark Carrier never had much intersection with the Jets during his distinguished 11-year playing career. But you could almost say it's in a grandfather clause somewhere that he would come to the Green & White for a spell.
Or more accurately, a father clause. As in Rex Ryan's dad, Buddy.
"Buddy had left the Bears after '85 and I didn't come in till '90," Carrier, the Jets' new defensive line coach, told newyorkjets.com this week from his office at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "But we ran a lot of the same defense, and there were a lot of holdovers on that defense, a lot of guys who were still big supporters of Buddy Ryan.
"That group was the one that broke me in, the group I cut my teeth with understanding how to play this game."
Carrier took a bite out of the NFL as the sixth pick of the 1990 draft, racking up a league-leading 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and 122 tackles from his free safety spot. Those figures, which wound up being career highs, led to the first of his three Pro Bowl invitations.
After spending all 11 playing seasons on NFC teams and then leaving the pros to do some electronic media work, including a stint as the pre- and postgame host on the USC Football Radio Network, he came back to the NFL as an assistant coach. This time it was an AFC team, the Baltimore Ravens. And he returned at the urging of a fellow Southern Cal alum, Dennis Thurman, and Buddy's son, Rex.
"Rex allows you and helps you to develop to become a coach, become a better coach," said Carrier, who coached on Ryan's defense for three years before Rex got the Jets job 13 months ago. "He sets the guidelines down — this is what is expected of you — but he allows you to be you, he wants your personality to come out.
"What you love about Rex and the staff is that with all that bravado, there's a lot of teaching going on. I said that when I was with the Ravens after my first year. Those guys, as good a defense as they were, they were the most technically sound group I'd ever been around."
Last month, Carrier was the secondary coach on the vaunted Ravens defense that disposed of the Patriots in the AFC Wild Card Round before being stymied by Peyton Manning and the Colts in the divisional round. And once his team was out of the playoffs, he found another team to admire in the other half of the American Conference bracket.
"The Jets' success this year didn't surprise me, not at all," he said. "When we ended up losing to Indy, I have no problem saying I was one of the Jets' biggest supporters, hoping they could do it. You like to see good people have success. If it's not you, why not them?"
And now he's no longer a "them," he's an "us." With a coaching opening on the D-line, Ryan picked up the phone and Carrier answered the call. And here's something to make your head spin: He's now filling the same role that Buddy Ryan filled in his first NFL assistant coaching job on Weeb Ewbank's Super Bowl III-to-be staff in 1968.
Some fans have asked about the transition from a lifelong DB and DBs coach to coaching the Jets' DL. Carrier's not concerned and neither is Ryan. For one thing, coaches change positions all the time. It's perhaps a little more common on offense, but defensive coaches add new positions to their résumés as well.
"It's not unknown," Carrier said. "This helps me down the road to get better in my game."
Another point is that Carrier said he's been around "two of the best D-line coaches there are." One is Clarence Brooks, whom he worked with the past four seasons in Baltimore. The other is Rex Ryan. Mike Pettine also has had a DL specialization. Jeff Weeks, who took over the position the second half of this past season, remains on the staff. The support net is wide and strong.
But ultimately, Carrier said, the most important part of this conversion is in having the philosophy of the defense, the philosophy of "playing like a Jet," already in his football DNA.
"It's not like you're putting in somebody who doesn't understand what it takes and how to play," the Jets' newest coach said. "From the moment I stepped in with the Ravens, with Rex and those guys, it was we don't talk about anything but being the best, and working to be the best — we expect it. Ever since then, that's been my mindset, how I think and how I prepare the players to match that criteria."
We'll bring you a few more recollections from Carrier, from one of the two games he played against the Jets in the Nineties, in an item on the Radar on Friday.