Following is an excerpt from Rex Ryan's new book, "Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs, and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game," written with Don Yaeger, from Doubleday, exclusively for visitors to newyorkjets.com. The excerpt is taken from Chapter 18, "Hard Knocks":
One of my biggest goals for this franchise is for every coach to want to coach here and for every player to want to play here. We had already changed the culture of the Jets on the inside. We were a whole new team and we knew exactly how great we were. Our next step was to find a way to make sure outsiders knew it, too. In order for that to happen, we had to sell ourselves, and it turned out that Hard Knocks was our platform.
Mr. Johnson was actually approached by NFL Films with the proposal to do Hard Knocks during the 2009 season. He ended up saying no, because it was my first year as head coach and clearly we were going through changes. I think he knew that I needed a year to get settled, and truthfully, I'm sure he needed a year to get settled with me. When NFL Films came back in 2010, he agreed. Over the years we had been deemed "the play like you mean it same old Jets" and Mr. Johnson was sick of it. Like any NFL team owner, he has a lot of pride in his franchise, and to him "the same old Jets" was a derogatory term that he wanted to get away from. There was a new head coach, a new practice facility, a new stadium, and most important, a whole new culture to the Jets. Hard Knocks was the way to show all that and to let everyone see firsthand that the New York Jets were not the same old team.
Before we signed on the dotted line, though, we needed to make sure that we were all on the same page about a couple things. We had to agree on the goals. In other words, what were we hoping to gain from doing the show? It was simple: When Hard Knocks was said and done, every coach and player should want to be a part of this franchise. It was agreed upon by Mr. Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and me that the only way that was going to happen was if we stayed true to who we are. I wasn't going to change the way I coached, and they never expected any different from me. The way we looked at it, Hard Knocks was a reality television show and reality was exactly what we were going to give them.
In itself, Hard Knocks was a commercial for the Jets. It was a five-hour commercial that followed our team through two weeks of training camp. It cut two weeks of footage down to a one-hour episode that aired Wednesday nights for five weeks. And what can I say? We were a hit. We gave Hard Knocks the highest ratings in history and provided sports broadcasters with enough color commentary to last them the entire regular season. People loved the show; they may not have loved us, but they sure as hell loved watching us.
Training camp is one of the most critical times during the whole season. Those are the weeks that you're building the team — not only from a roster standpoint, but the foundation and ideals of the team, too. As a coach, it's the time when you are developing a relationship with your players. You're learning them and they're learning you. It's a constant roller coaster from beginning to end. You have players who have dreamed their entire lives of playing in the NFL. They're out there fighting harder than hell for a spot on that roster, giving you everything they've got — and then you have to be the one to tell them that their best just isn't good enough. You have to cut guys you love and guys who are damn good athletes, because in the end it's about getting down to the 53-man roster. It's emotional for the players and it's tough for the coaches; there's no question about it. Hard Knocks followed us through the entire process and showed everything from players getting cut to the coaching staff's private meetings. A lot of people were shocked by how much the cameras revealed during episodes.
"Distracted" was just one of the many opinions about our team that spun from us doing the show. But I will tell you this right now: During those five weeks of filming, there was never a moment that this project became a distraction to me or to the players. Hard Knocks did such a good job of really being invisible. The producers had cameras all over the place. They also put these microphones the size of a pen cap all around the facility. I didn't realize there was one on my desk for a while. The producers wanted to get a realistic perspective of us, and that was made very clear to the players. Before they started shooting footage they said, "If you act like an idiot or if you ham it up for the camera in any way, we will stop filming." They were serious about that. The minute the players or staff stopped acting like themselves, the cameras stopped.
When Mr. Johnson hired me as the head coach of the Jets, he hired me knowing damn well the type of person I am, and he has never once asked me to be someone different. Mr. Johnson does this job for one reason: the fans. He has always wanted a way to reach the fans, but before hiring me he couldn't reach them exactly the way he wanted to. When I came on board, it became easier to speak to the fans. I feel the same way as Mr. Johnson; both of us work every day for the fans and we know that the media is how we get to them. The media is our voice, and with me being as open as I am, Mr. Johnson knows that the fans are going to get a lot; they're going to get the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When Hard Knocks aired, I knew that it would get some press. One of the things that people were the most critical about was my language. Right after that first episode aired, all hell broke loose. Aside from Roger Goodell and Woody Johnson, who have never said one word to me about it, I really don't think anyone is in a position to tell me the way I should or should not be doing something. Yet for some reason other coaches and players felt that they had a right to judge me based off something they saw on TV.
Tom Brady spoke out and said he hated us as well as the show. Well, guess what? We hate the Patriots. What's your point? It's about competition. There is nothing better than to get the juices going. You want to hate an opponent. When you get fired up over one team, you go out there playing harder than you've ever played before because that hatred is inside you; it's what's driving you. I call your attention to our recent AFC Divisional Game against them ... a real highlight win for us. Do I really hate Tom Brady? I really don't know Tom Brady, but who wouldn't hate him? Look at his life. Actually, look at his wife. Every man in America hates Tom Brady, and he should be proud of that.
When I look back on the Hard Knocks experience I can honestly say that I am really glad we did it. We went into it with one goal, which was to show people who the Jets are and what we are all about, in the truest form. For the most part, I think we accomplished that. I think the show did a great job of highlighting all that we have to offer and the extent we will go to for each and every one of our players, how we will get them anything they need — whether it's a masseuse, a chiropractor, or a yoga instructor, we will find a way to get it for them. It was really important to Mr. Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and me that people see how we take care of our players. We treat them like men, not children, and I personally make sure each of them is aware of how important their role is to making this team whole. We treat them right, and we take pride in that.
Not everyone was left with the same impression of us from Hard Knocks, but one thing's for sure: We were entertaining as hell. Mr. Johnson says he knew people who would leave dinner parties early just to be home in time to watch it. I remember after watching the first episode that I thought it was great. I was entertained, and whether you know us or not, you can't help but laugh. We have so many stories to tell, and Hard Knocks was kind of a five-hour preview into the environment that we play in. We hooked people just by being us; that's the coolest thing in the world to me. I think everyone, whether they admit it or not, thought to themselves, "I bet it would be awesome to be a part of the Jets."
We are building a reputation in the league that is making people want to play our way of football, and that feels so damn good. Thanks to Hard Knocks, people were able to see firsthand that "the same old Jets" are gone. It was a great experience and one that I am truly glad we were given the opportunity to do. Would I do it again? Well, I think it's probably someone else's turn.
Book excerpt from Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs and Leadership In the World's Most Beautiful Game, by Rex Ryan with Don Yaeger. Copyright © 2011 by Rex Ryan and Don Yaeger. Published by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Coach Ryan – Book Signing Itinerary
Date: Tuesday, May 3
Time: 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Barnes & Noble
555 Fifth Avenue @ 46th St, New York, NY 10017
Date: Wednesday, May 4
Time: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
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Date: Thursday, May 5
Time: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
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