CORTLAND, N.Y. — Months removed from the restrictive, don't-say-a-peep regime of Eric Mangini, the New York Jets say they truly appreciate what new Coach Rex Ryan is.
And what he isn't.
"You can say what you want and speak your mind," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "I think it's always best if you can do that, because if you don't you can end up holding so much stuff in that at the end of the day it can be combustible. That's how we ended up with the last coach."
Ryan is among nine new coaches around the league, a group that also includes Kansas City's Todd Haley, Denver's Josh McDaniels, Seattle's Jim Mora, Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell, Detroit's Jim Schwartz, St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo, Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris and Cleveland's Mangini. That's not counting a pair from Bay Area teams, San Francisco's Mike Singletary and Oakland's Tom Cable, promoted from their interim roles.
Seven of the league's eight divisions have at least one new coach, with the only exception being the NFC East. Meanwhile, the turnover has been so dramatic in the NFC West and AFC West, only Arizona and San Diego have the same coaches who began last season.
As for the Jets, the mantra uttered in every corner of their camp is that the relaxed Ryan "treats us like men," with the implication that the rigid Mangini didn't.
Without naming Mangini, specifically, guard Damien Woody said not being afforded that respect "is almost degrading."
"Here I am 31 years old, I've got my own kids, and I'm married, and here's someone that's not that much older than me -- or whatever the case may be -- telling me what I can and can't do," Woody said. "It's so regimented where the game is just not a game anymore. It's not fun. Even when you win it's not fun."
And "fun" resonates with Ryan, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator who seems more relaxed than his irascible, eruptible father, legendary NFL coach Buddy Ryan.
In fact, after the team's first practice in the spring, Ryan gathered his players to say he liked what he saw except for one thing: They weren't having enough fun.
Ryan said he could almost feel the tension drift out of the room after that.
"I think they realized, 'Wow, this is different,' " he said. "But it is going to be different. I think they understand who I am. I'm just being myself, and I think they know they can trust that. Where before, guys were just a little bit tight.
"I just want to make sure they knew that this is still a game."
Said Woody: "It was great to hear. I'd never heard that in my whole career, for a guy to say that. He wants things to be enjoyable, where you have fun but get your work done."
The pendulum can swing too far in the direction of fun, of course, and there are many examples of that over the years. The term "player's coach" is interchangeable with "substitute teacher" in some instances.
Woody, for one, doesn't see that happening with the Jets.
"If you're a professional, you don't ever let it swing over to that dangerous side," he said. "You understand he wants you to have fun, but at the same time you're paid to do a job. You come to work and do what you're supposed to do."
The other new coaches this season:
Haley, Chiefs: Haley's star shot through the roof in the playoffs last season, when, as Arizona's offensive coordinator, he played a big role in getting the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl. But can he turn around a Chiefs team that doesn't have those supremely talented receivers, and will be much more of a run-based attack? Haley replaces Herm Edwards, whose team made the playoffs in his first season before going 4-12 and 2-14.
McDaniels, Broncos: Following in the footsteps of Mike Shanahan won't be easy, even though that iconic coach had won just one playoff game in the last 10 years. McDaniels, 33, was most recently offensive coordinator in New England. He didn't get off to a great start in Denver, alienating and ultimately losing Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler by pursuing the Patriots' Matt Cassel, who wound up with the Chiefs.
Mora, Seahawks: Mora actually got the Seattle job in February 2008, when team President Tim Ruskell announced he would be promoted from assistant head coach/defensive backs after Mike Holmgren's final season. Mora used to coach the Atlanta Falcons, and in 2004, his first season there, he led them to the NFC championship game. His three-year record there was 26-22, then the best winning percentage of any coach in Falcons history. (First-year Atlanta Coach Mike Smith's team was 11-5 last season.)
Caldwell, Colts: Like Mora and McDaniels, Caldwell is facing the difficult task of replacing a Super Bowl-winning coach. He takes over for Tony Dungy, who retired after last season. The Colts are coming off a 12-4 season, and have three-time league most valuable player Peyton Manning at quarterback. Things could be worse for Caldwell, who has been with Indianapolis since 2002.