Countdown to Super Bowl XLVI – Secret of a Coach’s Success? Ivy League Recruiting Battles - Ingles

The Giants’ organization is filled with football-savvy people, all of whom seem to agree on one thing: they knew the team’s wide receivers were talented, knew they had potential and knew they could be dangerous this season, but never imagined the receivers would end up with the gaudy statistics they ultimately compiled.

“No,” quarterback Eli Manning said.

“Nope,” General Manager Jerry Reese said.

“Not at all,” the offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said.

It seems fitting, then, that the most surprising collection of players on the team is led by a position coach whose career path is just as unlikely.

In his most honest moments, the receivers coach Sean Ryan said Tuesday, even he never imagined he would see his charges break out the way they have. But then again, Ryan added, he never imagined he would already be seeking a second Super Bowl title, particularly because it was only six years ago that he was spending much of his time scouring high school scouting reports in search of the rarest of football prospects — the ones with grades good enough to get into Harvard.

“When there is a kid who is good enough that you want and has the grades to get in and you’re fighting for him with Yale? Now that’s challenging,” said Ryan, who came to the Giants in 2007 after serving as an assistant and the recruiting coordinator at Harvard. “The Ivy League doesn’t have all the hoopla of the N.F.L., but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.”

He added, “I think a lot of the skills I built there have helped me succeed in my job here.”

In particular, Ryan said, his ability to relate to players — to connect with them on a human level and as a teacher — has been important with the Giants, especially because the team’s three top receivers are all 25 or younger.

“He lets us be ourselves,” Mario Manningham said.

Ryan developed that ability early in his coaching career, he said, but sharpened it during his time in the Ivy League. At Harvard in 2006 and at Columbia as an assistant for the three years before that, he was continually selling a philosophy: come to our college and you’ll be a true student-athlete, Ryan would say. The football is great, and the education is even better.

At one point while at Harvard, Ryan recruited a highly regarded tailback from California, Gino Gordon. Ryan was in contact with Gordon often, tracked everything he had done on the field and off and was determined to take him to Cambridge, Mass.

“But Yale was on him, too,” Ryan said. “And I think Penn was also. I’ll be honest: when we landed him, it was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve had.”

This season, of course, could top that. Whatever the outcome of the Super Bowl, Ryan — in his second season as the receivers coach and his fifth with the organization — has established himself as an important piece of the Giants’ coaching staff.

Despite losing Steve Smith last summer, the Giants’ receiving corps thrived this season. Hakeem Nicks recorded 1,192 receiving yards and 7 touchdown catches. Manningham caught four scoring passes despite being limited by injury during the regular season, and has pulled in a touchdown pass in each of the Giants’ three postseason victories. And Victor Cruz, who had not recorded a regular-season catch before this season, set a franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards and had 9 touchdowns while introducing a legion of Giants fans to the previously unknown beauty of the end zone salsa dance.

“I don’t do any coaching with the dancing,” Ryan said. “But I did tell him that I might fire up an Irish jig if things go well for him this week.”

That light touch, players said, drives the devotion the receivers feel toward Ryan, who began his Giants tenure as the offensive quality control coach. Ryan has an easy rapport with the receivers. What often happens, Gilbride said, is that the receivers will sit in the larger offensive players meeting, where Gilbride thunders on about mistakes and miscues, before repairing to their own meeting room, where Ryan will deliver the same message in an easier tone.

“I’m always the bad cop,” Gilbride said. “He can go in and soften them a little if I’ve been rough with them.”

Receiver Devin Thomas said that is a skill that should not be undervalued, especially because of the overall inexperience of the group.

“Coach Gilbride, he’s more cut and dried,” Thomas said. “Sean gives it to us on a silver platter. It’s cool for us. It allows us to stay confident.”

That does not mean Ryan cannot be forceful; he hammers the players on their fundamentals, stressing the tiniest of details, like how far bent the receivers’ knees should be at the line of scrimmage so they have the perfect break after the ball is snapped. He is also fanatical about film study, several players said, continually poring over the strengths and weaknesses of his charges.

But on a coaching staff with several intense personalities, Ryan’s light touch with his players distinguishes him. He frequently allows the receivers to take the first five minutes of their position meeting to relax and joke around — a welcome break, players said, as they have typically just come from another 90-minute meeting — and Ryan is not spared when it comes to the ribbing.

“We don’t talk about the Ivy League stuff,” Ramses Barden said. “But we do get on him because he used to play defensive back when he was growing up. I mean, he played D.B.? Come on. What’s he know about wide receivers?”

(source New York Times)

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