The Buffalo Bills have made their share of improvements in recent years when it's come to raising the level of talent on the roster to fortifying the team's mental toughness. They also just completed their first winning season in a decade. But now with Rex Ryan on board as head coach the Bills not only look like a winner, they're going to act like one as well.
Ryan has always been known as a coach with enormous self-confidence. He believes in his abilities as a coach and as a motivator. Listening to him at his introductory press conference last Wednesday one might have thought he was already addressing his new players in Buffalo's team meeting room.
"Through hard work, through preparation, and all that, we're going to see how many teams match our work ethic," Ryan said. "The Buffalo Bills represent this community of Buffalo. We're going to be tough. We're going to be as loyal to our fans as they are to us. We are going to earn that loyalty and that trust, and one thing you're going to see, come September, this team will be ready, period. That's going to be my guarantee.
"Are we going to play a physical brand of football? Absolutely. Are we going to do ground and pound? Yeah. You're darn right we are. Are we going to throw it? Yeah, we got Sammy Watkins outside, why wouldn't we throw it? This team, we know how loaded we are with talent. There's no question about it."
When asked about Buffalo's defense, which ranked fourth overall, he called the final ranking disappointing.
"That's not where my expectations are," he said. "I know we'll lead the league in defense. That's just the way it goes."
Ryan's confidence might come across as arrogance to some, but for the majority of his career he's backed it up with results. That confidence finds a way to permeate the locker room and his players invariably play with the same attitude Ryan speaks of when they step between the lines.
"My message to our team is to get ready," he said. "Start preparing now. Start preparing that we're going to be playing games in January and so forth. Start preparing that way. We're going to see if you're going to play us for 60 minutes because we're going to give everything we have every snap out there and again, that represents not just ourselves and it represents our community and we're going to earn the same type of respect that our fans give."
Rex Ryan arrives in Buffalo and tours the ADPRO Sports Training Center for the first time as the 18th Head Coach in Bills history.
At the same time Ryan also holds a deep respect for his players, which is why they play so hard for him. He builds relationships with his players quickly. Though he's very demanding, it's very evident to the men in his locker room how much he cares about them and they respond.
"I feel that I am a player's coach. The only thing that means is that I care about my players more than anything," he said. "For some reason, it's just an easy trait. It's something that comes naturally to me. That's the way I've always done it. I demand a lot from my players, but what I tell them is what I believe to be the truth. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but I tell them what I believe to be the truth and I treat them with respect. I treat them like men. I think they appreciate that. I just try to treat people fairly and respectfully."
In Ryan's six seasons as Jets head coach he beat the Patriots four times, including once in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium. Though he admitted that being fired as head coach for the first time in his career has given him greater motivation as he steps into his current job with the Bills, it's still the Patriots he looks forward to facing the most. Ryan respects Bill Belichick and his team, but he certainly doesn't stand in awe of them either.
"We're not afraid of anybody and certainly not afraid of them," Ryan said. "We respect them. Understand that I recognize the fact that they have won our division the last six years. I think maybe the last, maybe 10 of the last 11 years they have won our division. But, that doesn't guarantee they're going to win it next year. And it doesn't mean that we can't be the team on top.
"I think there is a lot of talent that we already have here, and I can't wait for that either. That opportunity, again, to play them, they certainly know that I'll look forward to those games. We're going into every game and we expect to win. Period. This team is going to expect to win regardless of who we play. I'll be honest. It's still the Patriots that I want the most."
Paired with a firm desire to win every time out is an attacking style in every phase of their game, which will be in sharp contrast to what Bills fans witnessed, at least on offense, this past season.
"We're going to be aggressive. There's no doubt," said Ryan. "I think that statement is going to be answered early. You'll see. Obviously, there are some philosophy things that Greg Roman and I are just dead together with. I think running the football is important to us, especially when you come down to playing games and winning games in December and January, especially in the conditions that we'll play in. We need to do that. It's important.
"But one thing you'll never be able to say about our team is that we weren't aggressive. Will we go for it on fourth down? Will we do those types of things? Will we fake a punt when leading by three with three minutes left to go in the game on a fourth and 13? Yes. The answer is yes we will."
Despite the fact that Buffalo finished second in the AFC East in 2014, they have not earned the respect of the rest of the league. He's out to change that by instilling an attitude in his team that no other NFL club is going to mess with them.
"We're not going to get pushed around. I can promise you that," he said. "We will not be pushed around. There's not a better thing than a community with a bunch of tough-minded people. It's easy. Build your football team the way that this community is built, with the same type of work ethic and all of that type of stuff. We absolutely are not going to be pushed around. We're going to do a lot of pushing ourselves. I'll promise you that."
Some might be wondering how Ryan will instill the kind of attitude that comes to him naturally, but his track record of being a master motivator is a proven one. Add in the fact that being fired by the Jets has only provided him with greater self-motivation and the impetus is there.
"I used to always tell my players to not listen to that little voice. The little voice tells you that that's all you got. There is another voice that if you ask for a little bit more you can get it," Ryan said. "The Buffalo Bills are going to get a little bit more from me. There's no question about that. Yes, it's the first time that I've ever been fired. I've been fired as part of a staff that got fired. But, when it's my name that leads that list, that heads that list, yes it is personal. It's embarrassing. I see myself as a good football coach and I can't wait."