What a fine hoot that Rex Ryan gets another incarnation. What a welcome development in a fledgling season full of worthy subplots. What an unexpected pleasure and a morsel of justice. What a commentary on the lunacy of our species.
Rex Ryan: After the two lean years, the one really lean year, the Tebow experiment that cracked all the test tubes and spilled all the chemicals, the Sanchez injury, the Revis departure...
Oh yeah, that's a damned-good football coach.
That was a damned-good football coach on Monday Night Football right after one of the more cringe-worthy defensive-holding penalties you'll see. If you searched Rex's midnight face for reaction or angst after Atlanta's missed fourth-and-3 turned into Atlanta's fresh first-and-goal, you got disappointed. You saw mostly a play-the-next-play countenance. That might matter a lot or a little or even none, but that's a damned-good football coach.
The Jets drove the field with a rookie steering the offense and a kicker doing his precarious job from 43 yards, and that's a damned-good football coach. Four-plus seasons as audacious, then clever, then the maestro of a garish circus, now a turn as just a damned-good football coach.
They could have fired him after last season, and maybe it piles on more evidence of national maturity that they didn't. We have spent so much of our precious lives debating the job statuses of football coaches, but such chatter has never seemed more ignorable. Stick with the coach when the coach has shown the quality, and to hell with the chatter. You're not out there seeking dynasty anyway, because those don't exist anymore; you're out there hunting for that great once-in-a-while, some January-February that can sustain you through the muck of other years.
In a way, that's how Tom Coughlin can stand out there with 0-5 dreariness off a non-playoff year, and Mike Tomlin can seethe so skillfully in London at 0-4 off a non-playoff year, while any calls for their ousters come as marginal, unserious.
If the old Steeler way (three coaches and zero firings in 45 years) that benefits Tomlin (a Super Bowl winner and two-time qualifier) has become just a bit more the American way, good for that. If owners can remember that the now-exalted Bill Cowher era in Pittsburgh contained not only four home losses in AFC Championship Games, three of them galling, but also a three-year span of 22-26 and zero playoffs (1998-2000), then we all can spend less time in the tired assessing of coaches. In the end, no one can deny that Cowher excelled at his job, or that it seemed to make sense when his dreamy winter of 2006 finally brought along a reasonable helping of breaks, especially in Indianapolis.
If two Super Bowl wins can deluge four non-playoff seasons out of five, as the Giants soon will have with Coughlin, good for that, too. Ironclad legacies hinge ever more upon wispy vagaries. The parity is so pared, the masses of very good and good and pretty good so bunched together, that Coughlin had one promising season crumble mostly because a receiver's pistol slid down his jeans. He has one Lombardi Trophy that probably turned on a single third-down Cowboys incompletion with two minutes left in Dallas in December, and surely did turn on two muffed-and-fumbled punts in San Francisco in January.
Far from the Steelers of the 1970s or the 49ers of the 1980s or even the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys of the 1990s, we're in the crapshoot era now. The 2012-13 Ravens pass through when the Denver secondary forgets the obvious; the 2011-12 Giants squeak into the playoffs with the 10th-best record in the league; the 2010-11 Packers get a fourth-quarter touchdown in Week 17 for a No. 6 seed, then get an end-zone interception plus missed field goals from 41 and 34 from a marvelous kicker in Philadelphia in the playoff opener; the 2009-10 Saints get oxygen from Brett Favre's monumental blunder in the pinch. Seldom do people argue that these were the best teams in their years. With our adoration of playoff theatre, those arguments don't matter to us anyway.
In the great crapshoot, you need less than ever to change from a damned-good coach to a maybe-somewhat-better coach. You reasonably might just slip through one year with a damned-good coach who has proved to be damned-good coach even if he hasn't seemed that damned good for a year or three. Wait for the talent to replenish, and know the cycle can be brisk.
That doesn't mean the cycle has come around for the Jets so that we'll see them in the final four three months hence. Surely not. But as we try forever to sort out the NFL hodgepodge, to interpret Atlanta's 1-4 record or the 3-11 mark of the Jets' three victims, we can count on this: There's a surprisingly intriguing bout coming up this Sunday in New Jersey. It has the 0-4 Steelers against the 3-2 Jets, and it's intriguing partly because of the present-day arcs of the two head coaches, one of them demonstrably damned-good and suffering, the other demonstrably damned-good and maybe even resurging.