NEW ORLEANS - With 31 NFL head coaches speaking their minds - New England's Bill Belichick didn't bother to show up - there was unanimity on one issue: They all expect their players to stay ready during the lockout.
"These are professionals who are dedicated to the game,'' new Titans coach Mike Munchak said Tuesday during the coaches' breakfast at the annual owners meetings. "They will stay in shape and be football ready when the call comes.''
Nobody knows when that might be, but the coaches are relying on their veteran leaders to ensure no players are slacking off.
"That won't happen. This is their trade and livelihood,'' added Munchak, who was a player during the 1982 and 1987 player strikes. "Guys now back in Nashville will be working out on their own. They know how important it is to be in shape.''
With a hearing set for April 6 as 10 players seek an injunction in U.S. District Court to block the lockout, and with no negotiations scheduled, the labor impasse could last a while. Players normally would be reporting for offseason workouts now, mostly weight training and exercise. Team drills wouldn't come for several more weeks.
By mid-April, though, working on plays with teammates becomes important.
"I believe our players will take care of themselves,'' new Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "They'll want to be prepared for when we get rolling.''
Rex Ryan looks forward to rockin' and rollin', too, although he's not keeping tabs on his guys.
"They're on their own,'' the Jets coach said. "It's not like you organize anything. Somebody said, 'Are they working out?' I have no idea. You don't know who's working out, who's not working out, all this stuff. But I'm confident that when our guys come back, they will be ready to roll.''
For Ryan and the other coaches, there can be no contact with the players during the work stoppage. They simply must rely on the professionalism of their players.
"If these guys don't take the initiative, I've got the wrong kind of football team to start with,'' Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "If they can't figure out where to work out and how much to work out, usually you've got the wrong guy to start with.''
Added new Raiders coach Hue Jackson: "I think a pro football player knows what his duties are and what he needs to do to prepare himself to play. There's a lot being made right now about guys getting together to work out. Is there some good to that? There's no question there is. But most players right now are probably preparing their bodies to get ready for an offseason program, so I would think if you play in the National Football League, you're doing everything you can do get your bodies and minds right so you can be ready to go play.''
Whenever that is.
REX ON A ROLL: New York Jets coach Rex Ryan never has been someone who passes up a good punch line, particularly at the expense of the rival New England Patriots. He was in fine form Tuesday during the coaches' breakfast at the NFL owners meetings.
He spoke about Patriots coach Bill Belichick ("I feel, like, at times, we're the only team that can beat him'') and quarterback Tom Brady ("You know he can't stand me''), among other topics.
- On Belichick: "You know what's funny? We have conversations. We talk about baseball. We talk about anything. I personally like Belichick. And I have more respect for Belichick than any coach in this league, as you guys know. But again, I still want to beat him. And the fact that he's in our division - I'm paid to beat him. ... They lost three games last year, two to us.''
- On Belichick benching Wes Welker at the start of the Jets' playoff victory over the Patriots after the receiver's verbal digs at Ryan: "At the time, I was like, 'That's pretty cool.' " Ryan said he took that as a sign of Belichick's respect for him.
- On Brady: "One day, I expect him to roll out one time and just launch a ball at me and take the incompletion. That's what I worry about. I do like to play with him a little bit. But what a great quarterback.''
- On why three-time Super Bowl champion Brady was only a sixth-round draft pick: "We all saw him run that 40. Oh my goodness, that's the slowest 40 I've ever seen in my life.''
- On his brother, Rob Ryan, the new defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys: "I always say this to him, and I believe it: I think they'll be second in the league in defense this year.''
- On the reaction of his father, Buddy Ryan, to Rob's job, given Buddy's clashes with the Cowboys while coaching the Eagles: Buddy Ryan is "struggling with it a little bit. ... He looked at Rob like he's Benedict Arnold or something.''
STANFORD GUY, MICHIGAN GUY, SAN FRAN GUY: How torn was Jim Harbaugh before deciding to either remain coach at Stanford, leave for Michigan or head to the NFL and the 49ers?
"I wanted to coach Stanford, a top five team and something I was a part of building up,'' he said. "I wanted to coach my alma mater (Michigan). And I wanted to coach the San Francisco 49ers. I wanted all of them.''
Sorry, Jim, it doesn't work that way. So the Niners won the bidding, giving Harbaugh a five-year deal for about $25 million.
"Ultimately, it was the chance to coach at the top level, in the NFL where there's 32 teams that have a chance every year,'' said Harbaugh, whose brother John has one of those prized head coaching jobs, with Baltimore. "This is the ultimate challenge. I feel everything I have done before has set me up for this.''
Coming from a coaching family - the Harbaughs father, Jack, is a longtime coach - Harbaugh was a successful college and pro player, too. After making Stanford into a national power, he was contacted by Michigan after it fired Rich Rodriguez last year, and by the Miami Dolphins even though they still had a coach, Tony Sparano. Following some melodrama fitting for Hollywood, Harbaugh stayed in California - northern California.
"There are lots of paths people can take to be a coach,'' he said. "I don't think the paths and experiences I've had preclude me from being a great coach. Playing and coaching has led me to be a coach at this level.''
TOP OF THE DRAFT: Coming off a 2-14 season in which they had the league's worst offense (196 points, 75 fewer than any other team) and yielded 408 points, the Carolina Panthers can't count the number of holes they must fill. With the top pick in the draft, they are leaning toward, well, who knows?
"We're going through the whole process and we still have about eight guys at various positions we're looking at,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "We're 60 percent of the way along.''
Carolina's most glaring needs are at quarterback, receiver, tight end, both lines and in the secondary. Not that there's a particular strength on the roster, either.
That puts QBs Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton in the mix for the Panthers, along with any of the dynamic defensive linemen and wideouts A.J. Green of Georgia and Julio Jones of Alabama.
"We have another few weeks to do more evaluations and to meet with the players and everything that goes into making this pick,'' Rivera said.