Ryan's success with Jets makes dad proud
Buddy Ryan still feeds his horses and mucks their stalls at a farm in Shelbyville, Ky. It’s a good bit of work, as he’s got about 20, among them a mare called “FiredForWinning,” which he said he was in Philly, and “FortySixBlitz,” after the defense he invented in Chicago.
With names like those, Buddy Ryan loves his equine charges. But a month shy of his 76th birthday, he knows he’ll never get as lucky with thoroughbreds as he did with sons.
His twins are 47 now. Rob is the defensive coordinator in Cleveland, and Rex, in his first year as head coach of the New York Jets, has become the story of the playoffs. On Sunday, Rex will match wits with Peyton Manning and the Colts, with the winner going to the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been waiting to see this for three or four years,” says the elder Ryan. “When Rex was in Baltimore, I wanted to see them play, but I never got a chance. Now I’m going to drive up to the game.”
As defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Rex Ryan faced the Colts four times, losing each contest. In retrospect, the most encouraging of those games -- at least for Jets fans -- came on Jan. 13, 2007, when Baltimore lost 15-6, holding Indianapolis to five Adam Vinatieri field goals. The Colts, who put up 38 on Bill Belichick’s Patriots the very next week, would go on to win the Super Bowl.
I wonder, what changes this time?
“Rex will know what to do,” says Buddy.
He’s been taught what to do. The father’s first NFL job was, perhaps not coincidentally, as a defensive coach with the Super Bowl vintage Jets. Then he went to Minnesota, where he tutored a group known as “the Purple People Eaters,” and Chicago, whose 1985 Super Bowl team is generally acknowledged to have won with the best defensive unit ever. The boys were in high school when they told him they wanted to be coaches.
“I was trying to talk them out of it,” he says. “It’s a tough business.”
Not as tough as mucking stalls, though.
“I guess everything’s a tough business,” says Ryan, who was 52 before he became a head coach. Rex is five years ahead of that pace. He may not have invented the “46,” but when it comes to defense, the Ravens -- for whom he coached going back to their Super Bowl season in 2000 -- might be the next best thing. And his Jets -- whose defense is ranked first in both yards and points allowed -- don’t suck, either.
Is Rex going to be a better coach than you were? I ask.
“I think both of them are, Rex and Rob,” he says. “Just as good anyway.”
By the same token, Buddy Ryan believes there’s a better comparison to make. “Belichick is the best coach in the league and has been for years,” he says. “Even when I was there.”
What do Rex and Rob have to do to catch up with him? I ask.
“They’re already doing it,” he says. “They’re already catching up.”
It’s worth mentioning that the Patriots were eliminated a couple of weeks ago. It’s also worth a reminder what Rex Ryan said back in the preseason, his first in the AFC East: “I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.”
That remark, as much as any blitz scheme, epitomizes what Rex and Rob learned from their father.
“I told them: you have to be yourself and know that you’re honest,” says Buddy.
Of course, those who’ve come to expect the monotone meanderings of a Belichick might wonder if Rex Ryan hasn’t taken his father’s advice too literally. In his rookie season as a head coach, he’s spoken of the shame he endured growing up dyslexic, cried at team meetings, proclaimed the Jets as rightful favorites in each of their playoff games, and included a date for the Super Bowl victory parade on team itineraries.
But all that quotable bluster obscures rather formidable coaching acumen. To see the Jets beat the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday was to see them stymie the best long passing game in the league. But more than that was the way they did it. Just like the Bears and the Eagles liked playing for Buddy, you could see how much the Jets like playing for Rex.
Perhaps you recall Darrelle Revis’ acrobatic interception. Ryan is probably right; he should’ve been the Defensive Player of the Year. Still, to me, the game’s turning point came on a safety blitz in the fourth quarter, when Kerry Rhodes lit up Philip Rivers from the blindside.
“Sometimes,” said coach Rex, “when you hit the quarterback, the whole team feels it.”
That’s a distillation of the Ryan Defensive Philosophy: cream the quarterback. What was true for the Bears in 1985 remains true for the Jets in 2010. But as Ryan the Elder points out, the real skill is with people, not schemes. Rhodes had been benched back in November.
“Rex sat him down to get him going,” says Buddy. “And after they talked, he knew that’s exactly what he needed.”
In his first game as a sub, Rhodes came up with two interceptions.
“The coaches who fail are the ones who can’t communicate with their players,” said Buddy. “He’s a hell of a coach, Rex is.”
And with that, the old man was off to feed his horses.