FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It wasn’t quite group therapy or singing “Kumbaya” around a campfire.
But Rex Ryan is hoping to build a better bunch of locker-room leaders.
The New York Jets coach excused 19 veteran players, including Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, from practice Wednesday so they could attend what he called a “leadership training” seminar in nearby Bedminster, N.J.
Ryan got the idea after he and his coaching staff attended a similar session in June. He surprised the players Wednesday morning with the group outing, which ran from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. — so they could skip practice.
“We just had such a great experience as a coaching staff, and I’m hoping the players have the same kind of experience we had,” Ryan said. “It was great. It was something I felt all of us gained some things out of. You saw a lot about each other. I thought it was good.”
Most of the starters will not play in the team’s preseason finale in Philadelphia on Thursday night, so Ryan scheduled the session for Wednesday. It became clear something was up when several of the Jets’ key players weren’t on the practice field when reporters came out to view the first half-hour.
Ryan came over and explained the situation without going into many details, other than to say the players were sitting in a session with professional instructors and doing different “exercises.”
It’s a clear step to try to make sure what happened last season doesn’t occur again. The Jets were derailed in large part by tension in the locker room and a lack of leadership, highlighted by Holmes arguing in the huddle — and being benched — in the season finale at Miami.
In an interview with Showtime’s “Inside The NFL” in January, former running back LaDainian Tomlinson said the Jets’ locker room last season was “as bad as I’ve ever been around, honestly.” Backup quarterback Greg McElroy said during a radio interview around the same time that there was a “corrupt mindset” in the room and the team included some “extremely selfish individuals.”
Sanchez and Holmes have since said they have mended their relationship, and the feeling around the team is vastly improved.
“I think we just have a lot of good guys in this locker room,” Sanchez said recently. “We have guys with great personalities and guys who like to have fun. We have guys who love playing and competing against each other, who understand that we’re all on the same team.”