What I Learned From Rex Ryan, or Why Workplace Bragging is a Bad Idea

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan

In my long career, I’ve noticed two things about people in the workplace who like to arrogantly brag, strut, and tout to anyone who will listen just how great and wonderful they truly are:

  1. On the rare occasions when these puffed-up peacocks even come close to following through on their braggadocio, their level of talent is still grossly inflated by at least a factor of 10. In other words, they are at best moderately skilled at what they do, but nowhere near the point where they can fulfill the Big Talk that flows from their Big Yap;
  2. More commonly, I’ve found, is that these kind of people are just mindlessly cocky braggarts who talk a good game about all the great stuff they are going to do (and how much more talented they are than everyone else), only to flop terribly when the pressure is on and they’re expected to fulfill the over-the-top bluster they’ve been so full of.

Or as my Dad used to say, they can’t cash the check their mouth has written.

That’s where New York Jets head football coach Rex Ryan is today.

Frank, earthy, and entertaining

Like a lot of football-loving America, I watched Rex Ryan and the Jets this past month on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series that follows one NFL team through the rigors of training camp. It was hugely entertaining, and Ryan has not only gotten kudos for his frank, earthy demeanor, but he has been held up across America as THE quintessential head football coach.

Part of the job of being a head coach is motivating your team, of course, and Ryan does that superbly, as my former colleague Peter Schmuck (and I am not making that name up) points out in the Baltimore Sun. But part of Ryan’s coaching shtick is not just motivation, but also convincing his New York Jets players that they are hands-down better than everybody else and that the only thing that is acceptable is winning the Super Bowl.

Now, I know that every coach in America has some version of Rex Ryan in them (I’ve included a clip of him here, but don’t watch it if you have sensitive ears that can’t take crude and blunt language), so one can hardly blame Ryan for doing what every other coach does, even if it was broadcast to millions on HBO.

The problem is, Rex Ryan and his team couldn’t back up the big talk during either the pre-season or in Monday night’s season-opening game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Not that smart to talk so much

Former NFL player LaVar Arrington cut to the heart of the issue when he wrote in his Washington Post blog:

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I believe it wasn’t that smart to talk as much as Ryan did on the HBO series, “Hard Knocks.” He seemed cocky and arrogant and so did his players. When a coach spends that much time talking about how great his team is and how it will win the Super Bowl, you had better back it up…

Well, needless to say we all know the outcome of this story. Ray (Lewis) and the boys went into the “Hard Knocks” superstars’ house with a chip on their shoulders and wore the Jets out. It wasn’t a blowout on the scoreboard, and the Jets defense balled out, too. But that Ravens defense showed why teams in the future better think twice before they do a lot of trash talking on “Hard Knocks.”

Think about it. Rex Ryan’s brash, candid style of coaching from last season put a bulls-eye on his team. But to throw more fuel on that fire was not a good move. If you don’t think that every team has circled the date they play the Jets this year, you are kidding yourself.”

A lesson for managers and HR pros

And if they haven’t already had a bad enough week, the New York Jets are also involved in an incident where a female TV reporter was allegedly treated inappropriately/harassed when she visited the Jets training facility to interview quarterback Mark Sanchez.

There’s a lesson here for everyone, especially for managers and HR pros, and it doesn’t matter if you are a football fan or not.

The lesson is simple: you can only brag and talk big if you can follow it up with a big-time performance. Few people can tolerate an arrogant braggart, and unless you’re as entertaining as Rex Ryan, your big-mouthed act probably won’t endear you to your workplace colleagues — unless you can follow your bluster with incredible action and superb accomplishment.

No one likes such arrogant BS from employees, and they like it even less from managers, especially when it comes with a measure of disdain for those people who are toiling quietly, without outward braggadocio, and are just trying to get their work done.

Yes, you gotta be able to cash that check your mouth has written. Rex Ryan is probably trying to figure that out right about now.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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