Brash and always quotable, Rex Ryan had a personality that was perfect for the spotlight of Broadway as coach of the Jets. But the small market of Buffalo might actually be where he feels most at home. His dad coached the University of Buffalo's defensive line from 1961-1965, and even after Buddy Ryan moved on to an NFL gig, Rex was still a big Bills fans as he lived with his mom in nearby Toronto.
"We got all the Bills games, so I was a fan of the Bills going back to the Electric Company with Reggie McKenzie and Joe DeLamielleure and all those guys," Ryan, 52, says. "Even back in the AFL days, I was a fan of them. I can tell you a lot about the history of Buffalo. I remember when they drafted Walt Patulski even though he's a bust. He was a first-rounder from Notre Dame. I can go back and tell you all those things."
Understanding the lore of a franchise and connecting with the fan base is no guarantee of success in the long run, but it could help buy some time for a new coach in the short term.
"I think they realize I'm a guy that wants to be with them, be in the community," Ryan says of the Buffalo fans. "They realize I'm an average person given an incredible opportunity. I'm just a hard-working loyal guy and that's what ties me in with this community. That's what they're like, as well."
Ryan has maintained that special bond with the Bills, even though his loyalties shifted whenever his dad changed jobs, and that includes a run for Buddy as Jets defensive line coach. Rex moved to Minnesota to live with his father while Buddy was the Vikings defensive line coach from 1976-1977. He then graduated from high school in the Chicago area when Buddy was the defensive coordinator for the Bears.
The differences between the Jets and Bills run deeper than the spotlight. In the 11 seasons before Ryan started in New York, the Jets reached the postseason five times. In the last 15 seasons, the Bills have not reached the postseason at all. Since losing to the Titans in the 1999 Music City Miracle Play, the Bills have not played a 17th game in a season.
If Ryan is just able to make the postseason, he will accomplish more than the six head coaches before him. He will not be starting anew alone. For the first time since the team's founding by Ralph Wilson in 1960, the Bills enter this offseason under new ownership with Terry and Kim Pegula, also owners of the Sabres.
"I'm blown away by the ownership," says Ryan, who played hockey as a child in Toronto. "The Pegulas are unbelievable. People know how much they care about this community. They don't want to just bring Buffalo a winning team. They want to win championships."
As NFL fans may expect from Ryan, he is already talking big about the Bills' outlook.
"There are a lot of good football players on this team," he says. "The expectations have raised and they should raise. You've got players like one of the finalists for Pepsi's Rookie of the Year in Sammy Watkins. Having him as a young player, some of these other guys, I think it's a great time to be a Buffalo Bill and a great time to be the Buffalo Bills head coach."
Ryan leaves behind a Jets franchise that has struggled meshing ownership and management over the past few seasons. Most importantly, he leaves behind one of the more loyal player bases, which vocally supported Ryan to the day he was fired.
On players reaching out to him after his firing: "I think you can count the ones that haven't on one hand. Like I've said, I was very close to my players there and I appreciate their efforts and they wished me the best albeit the two games we play them. I wish them the same."
The Bills and Jets have played in the same division since the inaugural AFL season in 1960. From a football standpoint, the Bills and Jets do not get much closer. However, Ryan insists he and his coaching staff, full of former Jets coaches, are not overemphasizing the two matchups with the Jets in 2015.
"Obviously the team you're gunning for is the New England Patriots," Ryan says. "They've won the division 11 out of 12 year. They're the big dogs and the ones we're going to be hunting. The Jets, that's going to be another opponent."
The Patriots and Ryan's nemesis, Bill Belichick, are headed to Super Bowl XLIX in two weeks in Glendale, Ariz. When Ryan was asked to pick a Super Bowl champion on Sunday during the NFC championship game (the Packers were up 16-0 at the time), he was all jokes: "I don't care. As long as New England doesn't win. Nah, I'm just kidding!"
Of course, the obvious question to ask about Ryan's new job is what to do with his body ink. Ryan has a high profile tattoo of his wife, Michelle, in a green jersey wearing the No. 6. The ode to Mark Sanchez provides easing teasing for Ryan's critics. But that may all end soon.
"That tat's going to be changed for blue," Ryan says. "No question about that. Probably as soon as possible. I'm all blue, white and red and that's all I care about."
On Sunday, Ryan attended a "Hype Your Hometown" event hosted by Pepsi in Rochester, N.Y. The Western New York City was chosen as the contest winner by showing how loyal citizens were to the city. Pepsi, as part of its "Hyped For Halftime" lead-up for the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show with Katy Perry, sent Nico & Vinz to Rochester for a concert in the midst of the conference championship games. Ryan attended, but admitted his knowledge of the Norwegian duo is limited.
"I don't know a whole lot about them," Ryan says. "I just know 'Am I Wrong,' which is a huge hit."
The Pepsi event marked the first of many interactions Ryan plans on having with the Western New York community. One of their homegrown is back in town and he wants to change the path of the organization.
The terrain is familiar, as Ryan knows all about the AFC East. Now, the home base is Ryan's comfort zone: A small town with loyal fans and a hunger to return to the relevancy.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.