Buddy Ryan’s coaching career spans almost 5 decades of football stretching back to the 1950s. After completing his military service Buddy began positional and defensive coordinator coaching in college with Buffalo, Pacific, and Vanderbilt Universities. In 1968 he became the defensive line coach of the New York Jets, and employed exotic blitz packages (at that time) to foil the Colts in Super Bowl III. He’d coach there through 1975 and shuffle over to the Vikings in 1976. Buddy wasn’t there for too long before the rival Chicago Bears dialed his number, promoting Ryan to defensive coordinator in 1978. It was in 1982 that Mike Ditka was hired by the Bears. Ryan felt snubbed for the head coaching job, and he and Ditka never saw eye to eye. This would become a Ryan hallmark of: “Us against them,” or “defense versus offense”- even on the same team. Ryan implemented his 46 defense and the Bears leaped into the Super Bowl behind one of the greatest defensive performances of all time. Chicago won Super Bowl XX and probably could have won more of them, but Ryan jumped ship for Philadelphia, which offered him the head coaching job to him in 1986.
The Eagles at the time, were not the consistent playoff foe that people remember today. The team was going through a transition in nearly all phases of the team. Buddy came in and made the hard decisions, benching Jaworski in favor of Cunningham, and then going into the draft and mining out gems that filled the team defense. Guys like Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen, Jerome Brown, were all products of Ryan’s drafting. He also got some scrappy role players on offense like Keith Byars, Fred Barnett, Calvin Williams, Cris Carter, and Keith Jackson.
Ryan was not without controversy in Philadelphia, where he openly feuded with Cowboys coaches Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson. The latter accused him of bounties on his players, in what was referred to as the “Bounty Bowl”. I remembered the promo for the game on CBS vividly, as they had wanted posters of the Cowboys with bounties on the bottom and shot holes through them as they went through the cast of Troy Aikman and Luis Zendejas. Ryan also did not have problems settling and running up scores on opponents. Buddy won a division title in 1988, and while the team saw the playoffs under his tenure 3 times in a row- he’d be fired after the 1991 season.
Buddy briefly served as a commentator and then returned to the sidelines, this time as defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers in 1993. The Oilers had a historic collapse the previous season, losing in the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills. Bud Adams put his foot down and the taciturn Jack Pardee was forced to fire his defensive coaching staff and turn over the defense to Buddy Ryan. Ryan hated the run ‘n shoot offense, and most of all- had a strong dislike for offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. He continued his usual ‘us against them’ mentality and it was even rumored that the defense ate at different tables than offensive players. Buddy had the Oilers trade for Wilber Marshall, turned Lamar Lathon into a monster, and the Oilers defense seemed to play with more bite than the offense. After a sloppy start and adjustment to the 46 defense, the Oilers won 11 straight, clinched the division title, and was to play at home in the first round of the playoffs, but then Buddy pulled his greatest stunt yet. With the Oilers leading against the Jets near halftime in the shadow of their own endzone, Cody Carlson under center fumbled the ball and the Jets recovered. Buddy lost his temper with Gilbride, walked over and socked him in the face. Curtis Duncan, Al Smith, and Keith McCants, get into the middle and are forced to break up the skirmish on the sideline but it didn’t matter as it was all caught on video. The team imploded the next week and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Kansas City Chiefs. -When I look back at things now, this was when the Oilers started their long march towards becoming the Tennessee Titans. Buddy moved on and was hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals the following season. Buddy was gunning to be a head coach again and didn’t care about what a mess he contributed to. He left behind defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher, who later was promoted to head coach when Jack Pardee resigned during the 1994 season.
Buddy coached the Cardinals for the next 2 years. After making the same lavish predictions he made in Philly, Buddy was done in Arizona, unable to get consistency on the offensive side of the ball- or anywhere else for that matter. The silver lining was that his sons, Rex and Rob, both got some valuable coaching experience learning under him there at Arizona. Buddy retired after the season and breeds racehorses in Kentucky. He loves watching his sons coach football, and does not comment on who he roots for when the pair’s team play against each other. Buddy has battled Melanoma over the past 40 years, but is tough as nails and keeps coming back.
Buddy Ryan punches Kevin Gilbride: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPK3cDl7Ftw
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UPDATE- On June 28th 2016, Buddy Ryan passed away after a lengthy battle from Cancer. He was 85.