For four seasons, Rex Ryan and Bruce Arians were at the center of the NFL's most heated rivalry. Ryan, as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens and Arians, as offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, went head to head strategically for supremacy of the bruising AFC North. Now, for the first time, the two will lock horns with both as head coaches when the Indianapolis Colts take on the New York Jets this Sunday.
Ryan was the Raven's defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008. During that time, Arians was the Steelers wide receivers' coach for a season before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Their two teams did battle nine times in that span with Arians' Steelers winning five of those contests. Their last tussle in this rivalry was probably the most memorable. The Steelers, having narrowly beaten Baltimore twice during the regular season, faced the Ravens for the right to go to Super Bowl XLIII. Arians and the Steelers won that contest 23-14 to advance.
The two hooked up two more times when Rex went on to become the head coach of the Jets. The Jets won a regular season matchup against Arians and the Steelers in 2010, but Pittsburgh defeated the Jets 24-19 in the AFC Championship that year.
So overall, Arians holds a 6-5 advantage over Ryan when the two have gone head to head, including two AFC Championship wins, a fact that I'm sure doesn't sit well with Ryan. Even so, Ryan was complimentary of his rival during a conference call this week:
“Tremendous coach… we’ve had some good ones. You know a couple of championship games and all that kind of stuff and he really is a tremendous coach and things. So I’m not surprised how effective that offense is and you know you have to have a guy underneath center and they do with Andrew Luck and obviously the type of coach that Arians is, I think it shows they’ve got an excellent system, they’ve got guys that really believe and they’re doing a tremendous job.
Ryan also served alongside Chuck Pagano in Baltimore for a season when Pagano served as Ryan's defensive backs coach. Ryan said he and Chuck have texted often since Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. He had nothing but praise for Pagano as a coach and as a person.
Of course, the last time these two teams met, the Jets pulled out a 17-16 playoff victory in what was to be Peyton Manning's final game as a Colt. In that game, Mark Sanchez engineered a game-winning field goal drive right after Adam Vinatieri had seemingly won the game for the Colts.
Only Vinatieri and a few others remain on the Colts roster from that night in January of 2011. This time in New York, it will be Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard and Coby Fleener instead of Manning, Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark.
The players may not be that familiar with each other, but the coaches certainly are, and that means Sunday's contest will likely resemble the tightly-contested chess matches that Rex Ryan and Bruce Arians are famous for.
Check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.