INDIANAPOLIS - A period of postseason self-examination has led to this epiphany for Jets coach Rex Ryan: Fewer guarantees. More fun. On Thursday, Ryan faced the media at the NFL Combine. A year ago, in the same room at Lucas Oil Stadium, Ryan said, "This is the year we win the Super Bowl. I thought we'd win it my first two years. I guarantee it this year."And this year? Ryan was blaming his guarantee for a season that ended with the Jets out of the playoffs. "I think my comment hurt us," Ryan said toward the end of a 15-minute session. "I don't think there's any doubt. It put pressure on guys that, quite honestly, never needed to be."In the next breath, Ryansoundedthe horn for extra fun at Florham Park. "And I'll say this about our team, we're gonna have as much fun as any team in there. 'Cuz that's how we do business," he boasted. Fun's awesome. In my experience -- and I'm sure in Ryan's as well -- successful teams have a lot of fun.But the fun drips away when the team is rudderless or fractured or has some real miserable players who are self-centered and have been built up to believe they are better than they really are. And that's what the 2011 Jets were. When Ryan ran off at the mouth last February, I asked Ryan if his persistent and hollow guarantees might backfire. The coach who cried "Super Bowl!""I don't care about people taking it seriously," Ryan shot back then."We made it to the AFC Championship two years in a row whenI think people predicted we'd win six games. So, I don't care what people think. I care what our orgainzation believes and what our fans believe. "So, empty promises...I know we got to the same place (the AFC Championship) last year, it might not appear we got better, butI thinkwe got a lot better last year. If we can improve a little bit more, then why not us? We did beat the team with the most wins in the playoffs at their place (New England). We came (to Indianapolis) had a great win against a great team. We're the only team to make the final four the last two years, so why wouldn't I be positive? (Should I say), 'Hey guys, I'll be happy if we're 8-8.' That's the wrong guy standing in front of you."I'm always gonna say the same thing," Ryan concluded. "I believe we can be champs and why wouldn't I believe it. Somebody tell me whyI shouldn't believe that we don't deserve to be champions."Self examination led Ryan to conclude on Thursday, "I tried to put the (pressure) on myself to take it off our team. I don't think I accomplished that this season."Ryan was asked if he really believed words in February caused a his team to "fall off the rails" in December. "I don't see us as completely getting off the track," Ryan said, warming to the metaphor. "I think we got in the gravel a little bit. We just gotta right it. And we can't kneejerk react it or we'll roll it the other way. There's ways of handling these things. I think our football teamis a little closer than people give it credit for."It's interesting, for a guy as open, honest and genuine as Ryan is, he spends an awful lot of time thinking about playing head games with his message. Too much time, it seems. So much that he seems tangled up in who exactly he wants to be sometimes. Asked how he plans to exhibit the verbal self-control that's eluded him since 2009, Ryan said, "It's not just self-control. I'm gonna have fun. I have fun with the opponents media. Opponents players. Opponents coaches. This is not life or death. But one thing I'm totally serious about is winning. And if I think there's something that I say or a comment that I'm gonna make pulls us away from that mission, then I'm not gonna say it. But will I always be myself. Of course. I am gonna have a great time."Party. Hats.
NEW ORLEANS – For years, Gordon Hayward dreamed of this day, of being able to step on the floor and be among the top players in the NBA.
But in all those scenarios that raced through his mind, the idea that his first journey towards official stardom in the NBA – being named an all-star – would come at the same time that Brad Stevens would make his all-star coaching debut too?
“It’s really cool,” Hayward said. “If I were to sit here and say we’d both be at this position seven years ago, eight years ago when I was sitting down with him for a recruiting visit, there’s no way I would have believed you. It’s pretty special that we’re both here.”
Indeed, both Stevens and Hayward have arrived by taking somewhat atypical journeys.
For Hayward, his emergence during the NCAA Tournament showcased a big-time talent at a mid-major schools whose skills, in the eyes of many, could translate well at the next level.
“None of us knew how good Gordon could be at this level,” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com about Hayward. “But he was more athletic than we thought after working him out. And you knew he could shoot, but he can handle the ball a little better, too. And that’s how a lot of us saw him; a good player who had some things going for him early that probably translated better at this level than the average fan might realize.”
Stevens, who led Butler to a pair of national runner-up finishes, recruited Hayward at a time when he was a highly regarded tennis prospect.
He was good enough to where there was a point when Hayward thought about giving up basketball altogether to focus solely on playing tennis.
“In high school, I was 5-foot-10 as a freshman and I wanted to play a college sport,” Hayward said. “There’s not too many 5-10 basketball players that make it, let alone play college but then make it to the NBA. I thought I might have a better chance at playing tennis in college. That’s when I almost decided to go with this full-time.”
Hayward was in the middle of working on a speech to tell his high school basketball coach that he was going to quit the team to focus on tennis full-time.
And then he had what turned into a life-changing conversation with his mother.
“I came up to her, and was talking to her about it. And when I was going to do it, she told me to stick out the year,” Hayward recalled.
She reminded him of all the time he put in to become a better basketball player, and why he wouldn’t want to just throw all that to the side for a sport that they both knew he loved.
“I hit a growth spurt at the end of the year, and gradually got better and better,” he said.
That growth, both in terms of his game and the attention that came with that improvement, has led him to being an NBA all-star, an undeniable acknowledgement that he is among the best in the NBA. And making it all that much sweeter is that he’s getting to enjoy it for the first time with Stevens, a man whose role in Hayward’s life and ascension to this point should not be understated. While Hayward acknowledges the role Stevens played in his steady improvement as a player, the role Stevens played in his life was even more significant in his growth as a person.
The two don’t talk nearly as often as they did during their Butler days or shortly after Hayward was off to the NBA and Stevens was still in the college ranks.
But there is an undeniable bond that will forever link these two with one another, a bond that becomes all that much tighter with them making the unlikely journey from being more than just big-time talents at the mid-major level. They are now among the best in their respective roles, achieving the kind of success so few believed was possible a few years ago.
While Stevens acknowledges how unique and cool it is to be here with Hayward, he quickly shifts the focus to what he has always believed to be the keys to success: team and player, in that order.
“For him to get a chance to be among the elite players in the game is a special opportunity that was earned,” Stevens said. “It’s earned with your individual success and what your team is able to do. Their team is having such great success. I’m happy that he gets a chance to experience this, and that they look like a team that’s going to make a deep run in the playoffs.”
To hear those words is not at all surprising to Hayward.
“He’s such a good coach and such a great guy and mentor to me,” Hayward said. “I’m happy we’re here.”
Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely have a spotless attendance record for White House trips.
The Boston Red Sox outfielder began discussing those championship trips to meet the president after Red Sox chairman Tom Werner referenced the New England Patriots' Super Bowl win at a team get-together on Friday morning.
“If my team is going, yes, I’m going,” Bradley Jr. told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford, adding later, “I don’t like politics, not even a little bit.”
The Patriots so far have six players who have openly stated they will not attend New England's White House trip to meet President Donald Trump. Team leaders like Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty are among those unwilling to attend.
For Bradley, the White House trip is not about making a political statement.
“The reason why we’re going there is because we did something together as a team. The White House is cool,” he said. “I’m with my team."
The 26-year-old outfielder has twice attended the championship trip to the nation's capital. In college, he went with the South Carolina Gamecocks after they won the College World Series. He later attended with the Red Sox in 2013. Bradley Jr. said he enjoyed attending the White House to meet Barack Obama, but added he wasn't concerned with which president was hosting the event.
He said: “How many people can say they’ve been to the White House? That alone. There is a lot history there, and I’m a big fan of architecture. I think the whole thing is unique.”