All eyes will be on coaches

Columnist Jeff Gordon
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
08/14/2009

New Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo wants to make a good first impression tonight. New Jets coach Rex Ryan is eager to deliver a strong opening message as well.

Both men are hard-nosed coaches. Both men are striving to change the culture around their teams.

Spagnuolo was a candidate for the Jets job and Ryan got consideration for the Rams. Their coaching careers have moved onto parallel paths.

Ryan, son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, is more flamboyant. He enjoys parrying with reporters and he seems very comfortable in the Big Apple limelight.

Not everybody can coach in New York City. Ryan, a big man with a big personality, seems up to that task.

Spagnuolo keeps a much lower profile in St. Louis. He squints skeptically at the media glare, but he has no problems conveying his message to his players.

He is tightening up the atmosphere around Rams Park, getting everybody back to business. The whole organization lost its edge during the unfortunate Scott Linehan regime.

Ryan, on the other hand, is loosening up things for the Jets -- who chafed under the tyrannical rule of Eric “Mangenius” Mangini.

So as first preseason games go, tonight’s exercise in the Meadowlands will be more compelling than most exhibitions.

Rams and Jets players are eager to see their coaches run the show for the first time. Fans of both teams will be keeping a close watch on the sidelines, too.

“There are a lot of similarities in both our coaches,” Rams defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said between Tuesday’s practices. “Coach Rex Ryan who is a winner, just like our coach. (He) has been to the Super Bowl, won a Super Bowl. He is a defensive-minded coach, just like our coach.

“These two new head coaches are very similar. Both teams want to put pressure on the quarterback, stop the run, play excellent defense and put points on the board on offense. So it will be real interesting. It’ll be a good gauge.”

Rex Ryan can’t wait to run his own team on the sidelines as head coach.

“I'll get more TV time, so I'll have to shave,” he quipped to New York reporters. “I know there are decisions to make, but I'm looking forward to them. I've been sitting on the chair like everybody else on Monday nights, making those decisions a million times. The only difference is people are going to listen to me.”

But seriously . . .

“I was preparing all my life for it,” he said. “I am so confident. I got a great staff and a great group of guys that I think will make a good account of themselves.”

Spagnuolo will make his debut at his previous place of employment, Giants Stadium.

“Probably the first instant I walk in there will be, ‘yeah, I remember this place.’ But after that, it will be all Rams,” Spagnuolo told St. Louis reporters Tuesday.

Both coaches are ultra-competitive. Neither likes to lose, even in a practice game a month before the season opener.

“I will say this, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing pick-up basketball in the backyard or playing your brother in cards -- it's competition,” Spagnuolo told reporters Wednesday. “Everybody wants to win, so we’ll approach this thing as it’s a competition. We want to compete, compete at the highest level and then let it play itself out.”

We’ll learn a little more about each team during the game, but we’ll learn a lot more about the coaches.