Mark Sanchez and Eli Manning share more than just a home stadium. They also share a fan base that once doubted them. Can Sanchez mimic Eli's career transformation?
Under the bright lights of New York, many supreme athletes and coaches have fizzled under the lights. Larry Brown, Rick Pitino, Randy Johnson, Stephon Marbury and Brett Favre all flamed out.
Tom Coughlin nearly joined that ignominious list of New York disappointments five years ago. However, a surprising Super Bowl championship catapulted him into New York sports stratosphere. Today, Rex Ryan finds himself in the same predicament as a victim of his own overreaching expectations.
There couldn’t be two coaches more different than Ryan and Coughlin. However, the similarities in the career archs of them and their relationships with their respective quarterbacks are eerie.
While, Tom Coughlin was reared in the strict disciplinarian School of Parcells, Rex Ryan’s pupils have shown as much discipline as Whitney and Bobby on tour in Amsterdam. Honestly, it’s not surprising. His brother is the loudest mouth in Dallas and his father, Buddy is famous for introducing his fist to his offensive coordinator’s cheek.
One of Coughlin's former classmates during his time with the Giants was a young defensive coordinator by the name of Bill Belichick. Coughlin doesn’t display Belichick’s obvious symptoms of anti-social behavior towards the media but he’s not the publicity hound that Rex Ryan has portrayed himself to be. Coughlin coaches the Parcells way. He's stern and serious. Ryan is jovial and friendly.
Rex Ryan is a defensive guru while Coughlin is offensive-minded. Rex Ryan is a player’s coach who will defend his players relentlessly. Coughlin isn’t afraid to jump on his players publicly. Remind Justin Tuck about Coughlin’s sideline reaction to his sorry attempt at sacking Vince Young in the fourth quarter of their 2006 regular season meeting. Now compare it to how Rex Ryan ignored Santonio Holme's insubordination in the seaoson finale against Miami. However, Coughlin has walked the path that Rex Ryan finds himself navigating during his early off-season. Prior to the Giants surprising Super Bowl run in 2007, Coughlin was on the hot seat as Giants coach. After three under whelming seasons, Coughlin was given a one-year extension in 2006.
It seems like Coughlin’s Giants are perpetually ignored until they pull off another unlikely upset. In 2006, Coughlin’s Giants fell short of ending the New England Patriot’s undefeated season in Week 17. However, in Super Bowl XLII the Giants blocked the Patriots from settling into undefeated territory next door to the ’72 Dolphins. In November, the Giants threatened the Packers winning streak but fell short. Last week, the Giants ended the Packers season prematurely.
Conversely, Ryan’s Jets tend to come marching into town with the bluster of an HBCU marching band and exit with a tambourine band. The wall Rex Ryan has been unable to bust through has been the AFC Championship Game.
Rampant speculation has warned that Ryan’s players are beginning to lose faith in his antics. While it may hold some proof, its too simplistic. First of all, the same reporters speculated that the Giants had begun tuning out Coughlin’s cantankerous attitude. The Jets players still believe in Rex Ryan, however, his players have lost faith in his decision to show blind faith in Mark Sanchez. Coincidentally, Sanchez can identify with the plight of Eli Manning heading into his fourth season. Sanchez was the first player drafted under the Rex Ryan regime and Eli Manning was Tom Coughlin’s first draft selection.
Mark Sanchez has completed 55.3 percent of his pass attempts for 9,209 yards, 55 touchdowns and 51 interceptions in his NFL career. Through his first three seasons, Manning had completed 54.6 percent of his passes for 8,050 yards 54 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. Stats don’t tell the whole story but it does highlight the possibility of drastic improvement in Sanchez’s fourth year. During the 2007 season, fans were ready to run Eli Manning out of town. Former Giants running back Tiki Barber questioned Eli’s leadership abilities and called his pre-game speeches comical. This morning, Barber called Eli an elite quarterback. It’s a notion that was almost laughed at four months ago.
Perception is a powerful but unstable tool. Look at how the Jim Harbaugh has used his Jedi abilities to take the hapless 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl and rallied San Francisco behind Alex Smith. The 49ers embattled quarterback has transformed from a draft bust into The Comeback Kid Jr. Rex Ryan will be fine as a head coach as long as he can get back on the winning track. However, that may rest squarely on the shoulders of their quarterback. As bleak as the outlook for Jets may appear to be, Jets fans can look into the rear view mirror at how Eli (and Alex Smith) was perceived and look forward with optimism.