NEW YORK -- Rex Ryan still loves Mexican food.
Before, he'd eat as many as 12 tacos in one sitting. These days, it's more like one.
The New York Jets coach with the big, boisterous personality never hid that he underwent weight-loss surgery in March 2010. Normally happy to talk -- and talk -- about anything, Ryan was tight-lipped about the details for more than two years. He wanted to reach the milestone of shedding 100 pounds before he opened that famous mouth.
From a peak of 348 pounds, Ryan is now down to about 243.
Even Jets fans sometimes don't recognize the new, slim Rex, who played high school football at Stevenson when his father was a defensive head coach for the Bears.
"I feel good because I know l look better than I did," he said Thursday, before quickly adding in typical fashion, "which is not saying much."
"But it wasn't about that for me," Ryan continued. "I've been married for 25 years. I wasn't looking for the young girlfriend or whoever. ... I wanted to be healthier and live a long, healthy life."
At a high in his coaching career, he was also hitting a high on the scales. The Jets were about to face the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game after the 2009 season when Ryan happened to weigh himself. He would get short of breath going up stairs but never expected to see the number that left him "mortified": 348.
The 49-year-old Ryan thought a fellow coach was playing a trick on him, putting pressure on the scale while he stood on it.
"There was nobody there. It was just me," Ryan said. "I was shocked. I thought I was about 300 to maybe 310."
He had tried all sorts of diets in the past, losing lots of weight only to gain it all back -- and more. Ryan decided to have Lap-Band surgery after hearing the success stories of former players Jamie Dukes and Tony Siragusa.
The device makes him feel full after eating, say, that one taco, forcing him to practice portion control. Ryan acknowledged he didn't necessarily eat much healthier -- just less.
"If I want pizza, instead of eating a whole pizza like I used to, I'll eat a slice of pizza, if even that," he said.
The device can be adjusted, so Ryan had it loosened a bit when he and his wife recently went to Paris for their 25th anniversary so he could fully sample the French cuisine.
After surgery, his weight loss had started to plateau so he then started exercising, which melted away many more pounds. Ryan was at about 290 during last season.
At his heaviest, working out was just too hard on his joints. Now walking an hour on the treadmill feels like nothing, and he's thinking of running for the first time in two decades.
His goal is to drop another 20 pounds or so. Ryan has gone from a 48- to a 38-inch waist, so he's had to replace all his clothes except for his socks. His blood pressure and cholesterol have plummeted.
Without being asked, Ryan volunteers that he's getting paid to serve as a spokesman for Lap-Band.
"My message is: Do I believe in it? There's no question, 100 percent," he said.
So much so that he persuaded his twin brother, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, to get the surgery too. Rob has lost about 60 pounds.
Ryan's attitude often seemed inseparable from his girth, but he insists he's the same old Rex -- just healthier. The Jets' full training camp opens in Cortland, N.Y., next Thursday.
Ryan said he expected All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to be there. Revis wants to rework his contract and hasn't guaranteed he'll report on time.
"If he's not, then it's my job to coach," Ryan said.
Ryan repeated yet again that Mark Sanchez would be his starting quarterback after the acquisition of Tim Tebow. Ryan also hopes to see new addition LaRon Landry on the field at the start of camp. The veteran safety is coming off injuries to his Achilles and heel.
"If he comes back and he's healthy ... that back end could really be special," Ryan said.