The latest Sports Illustrated has a very good article from Jenny Vrentas on new Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan. It’s titled “The Rex Effect.” Though he was born in Oklahoma and coached in the biggest market in the country, New York, Vrentas makes the case that Ryan may be the perfect coach for blue collar Buffalo. She writes:
“Maybe it’s because he drives a pickup and drinks beer, or because he wore a throwback Thurman Thomas jersey at the combine, or because he orders a plate of wings, even though his lap band (he’s had weight reduction surgery) won’t let him eat more than one or two during a sitting. Whatever the reason, Ryan has already won over the fans and the franchise’s legends. ‘Mm-hmm. He fits Buffalo,’ Thurman Thomas says, letting out a satisfied chuckle. ‘If this had been his first head coaching job, he’d still be here.’”
If you think about it, who better to coach the Bills than a bombastic big guy who’s ready and willing to throw down a few beers and plate of wings? If Buffalo native Tim Russert were still alive he’d be the first to throw his arm around Rex and say, “I’m all in buddy on you and your prediction to deliver a Super Bowl. What’s not to like?”
Anyway, the story got me thinking about how iconic coaches fit the NFL cities they coached in. For example, nothing says Chicago Bears more than Mike Ditka. He made the Hall of Fame playing for the Bears and coached the team to its only Super Bowl championship. But Ditka was a Pittsburgh guy – a shot and beer and a punch in the mouth. But, that tough guy attitude made him a perfect fit during his run in Chicago from 1982 to 92.
Don Shula was born and raised in Ohio and got his coaching start in Baltimore. But in your mind’s eye you see him in those beach ball colors coaching in the sunshine of Miami. And though he took the Dolphins job at the age of 40, he stayed on the job so long he began to look like the rest of the Florida retirees in a white belt and white shoes looking for the early bird special.
Then there were the guys that seemed born to coach where they coached. Bud Grant went to college in Minnesota and coached the Vikings for 18 years – mostly outdoors in sub zero temperatures wearing only a sweatshirt. If Grant and Shula ever switched places, Grant might melt and Shula might freeze. But then there’s Vince Lombardi, who was so tough that no temperature bothered him. His image screams frozen tundra and Green Bay, but in fact, Lombardi was from the Bronx. The first time he lived outside of the state of New York was when he took the Packers job.
How about the Texas guys? Tom Landry, who was born in Mission, Texas, played at the University of Texas and coached the Cowboys from 1960 to 1988. That stoic Landry face defined the Cowboys in those years. Put a cowboy hat on him and he could be a gunfighter from the old west. Bum Phillips in fact, did wear a cowboy hat when he coached the Oilers, though not inside the Astrodome because his mama told him never to wear a hat indoors. Phillips lasted only six years in Houston, but will forever be the coach you think of when you think about the Oilers.
As for New York, nobody handled the Big Apple spotlight like the big Jersey guy, Bill Parcells. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants and took the Jets to the AFC title game. Parcells had the swagger and the attitude that fit the teams he coached. Though he did well in his last run in Dallas, it was tough to get used to Parcells standing in Landry’s shoes, or for that matter, Jimmy Johnson. How bout them Cowboys?
I saved Joe Gibbs for last. Born in North Carolina, he played and coached in California and other places. He was a perfect fit for Washington because he won all the time, especially in his first go-round. But did his makeup and personality fit the city? Perhaps it did, because like a great politician, nobody worked the people like Joe Jackson Gibbs. Before every big home game, Gibbs would tell us all how important we were – that we were the greatest fans and his team needed us on Sunday. Heck we bought it. Didn’t we? Wouldn’t it be great if all of our political leaders in this town could get us thinking like Coach Joe?
Yep, sometimes a coach comes along and is the perfect fit for that team and town. Who knows, Rex Ryan might be that guy in Buffalo.