Former NFL head coach Rex Ryan has spent the last seven years as an analyst for ESPN after a fairly successful coaching career. Spending three decades in the coaching ranks is no joke, neither is winning a Super Bowl as an assistant coach.
Given the reins to lead a franchise, Ryan brought the New York Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games but would never return to such heights.
He was a surprising entry to the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator interviews this offseason, given his distance from the game and how much the league has changed since his final season in 2023. The talent on Dallas’ roster played a role in urging the 61-year-old coach to throw his hat into the ring. Ryan explained his decision on ESPN on Sunday.
“I’ve been out for seven years. I’ve never called another head coach or anything like that. I called Mike McCarthy,” Ryan said. “And the reason I did is because I want to be on this stage. I want to be back on this stage if I’m going to get back into coaching.”
Of course, there’s no bigger stage than the Super Bowl. While the fanbase has justifiably turned pessimistic in the wake of consecutive playoff disasters and a feeling of stagnation in the NFC, it’s understandably why a coach could look at the likes of edge rusher Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs and convince themselves it is a worthy opportunity.
“I think with this roster … the way it is. I think offensively, special teams, and defense … I figured I could make maybe even a little bit of an upgrade,” Ryan said. “... That they could be right here [at the Super Bowl]. That’s why I was interested.”
Proximity to a championship, headlined by quarterback Dak Prescott, is inviting for any ambitious coach, even those who have missed the sidelines for the better part of a decade.
Additionally, McCarthy is under immense pressure from ownership to produce a Lombardi Trophy. The general sentiment is that this will be McCarthy’s final season if meaningful improvements aren’t made, creating a lame-duck opening at defensive coordinator, where Dan Quinn recently departed.
With the potential to last just a single year, many coordinator candidates were presumably turned off. For Ryan, however, Dallas emerged as an attainable and encouraging opportunity.
“Your team has no chance at me. That’s generally the case,” Ryan said. I would only go at the right, the right situation. And if it’s not completely right then I’m not going. But this team, it is interesting.
“Because they are so close to getting over that edge and that’s why I think people would be interested in this job.”
The Cowboys opted to hire former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to head up the defense (though interestingly, Ryan pushed back on the finality of the hire). Whoever is coordinating the defense will be tasked with stopping the Kyle Shanahan brand of offenses spreading throughout the league and bringing the physicality and discipline that Quinn’s defense sometimes lacked.
For now, Ryan remains at ESPN, content with the coaching career he carved out for himself but willing to test the waters should a Dallas-like opportunity arise.