NY Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan has been called many things. Churchillian isn't one of them. It should. The similarities with the former British Prime Minister are almost uncanny.
Consider the following:
Both had successful fathers whom they loved, admired and followed in their professional footsteps. Lord Randolph Churchill became Chancellor of the Exchequer (the rough equivalent of Secretary of the Treasury in the U.S.) before his career fizzled out.
"Buddy" Ryan, a defensive genius by all accounts, was the defensive coordinator of the 1985 Super Bowl winning Chicago Bears (for an excellent account of that team, one can do no better than turn to Rich Cohen's Monster: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football).
Interestingly, both sons rose even higher. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister; and although "Buddy" Ryan did become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles he never reached an NFC Conference game. Rex Ryan has twice seen his Jets play in the AFC Championship game and a Super Bowl appearance is not necessarily out of the question at some point. (Rex Ryan also has his Super Bowl ring as the defensive line coach of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens).
Both Churchill and Ryan faced certain challenges growing up. Winston had a speech impediment while Rex suffers from dyslexia.
Both did not attend elite universities or graduate programs. Unsurprisingly, this did not stop them from attaining professional success.
Both share a steady family life. Inappropriate personal affairs or scandals have apparently nothing to do with their lives. Rather, they offer great examples of happily married family men.
Both Rex and Winston had masters. For Churchill, it was the British people who even booted him out of office after his successful stewardship of Britain during the Second World War. For Rex, it is the impressive NY Jets owner Woody Johnson, who might decide to let go of Ryan if the team fails to make the play offs for a fourth consecutive year.
Both Churchill and Ryan are clearly outsize, larger than life, charismatic personalities.
Impressive oratorical skills are evinced in both of them. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once quipped that while England was facing the Nazis alone, Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle." And Rex Ryan reportedly inspires with his talk the Jets players, albeit exhibiting a certain predilection for profanity-laced rhetorical outbursts.
Both also exhibited a similar physique, before Rex opted to undergo lap band surgery (unavailable in Churchill's time).
Despite their success, both Churchill and Ryan fundamentally shared an underdog mentality. Winston was forced to view the growth in strength of England's enemies; and Ryan has to contend with one of the greatest collaborations in the history of football, that of Coach Bill Belichick and QB (and GOAT candidate) Tom Brady.
But the greatest similarity between these two people goes to the very core of their thinking and acting. The following anecdote is illustrative: Churchill was once asked to produce an epigram for a French First World War memorial What he came up summarized his philosophy in politics: "In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Goodwill." (astonishingly, it was rejected).
I posit that this epigram also best describes Ryan's football philosophy. Consider how in the war that is modern day NFL football he keeps coming up with often creative defensive schemes that fall under his "organized chaos" approach; and Rex is quintessentially defiant. When he got his NY Jets head coaching job, he somewhat infamously declared: "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings." Or after a particularly awful 45-3 Monday Night defeat in the hands of the New England Patriots at Foxborough (known in some quarters as the Monday night massacre) he defiantly proceeded to actually bury in the ground the game ball with all the players in attendance. Good Will is also present with Rex. During the "peace" of the off season and of training time, no allegations of impropriety of any sort have ever been made.
However, there is one element missing in this comparison. Churchill was among the victors of the Second World War. Ryan has yet to win a Super Bowl and thus have the opportunity to demonstrate his magnanimity.
Rex Ryan is a Churchillian figure but the ultimate price still eludes him; but he can perhaps take encouragement from the fact that Winston only became Prime Minister and thus exhibited his ultimate greatness at age 65.
Dr Aristotle Tziampiris is Visiting Fellow at New York University's Remarque Institute. His opinions are personal.