So, let me get this straight: In an attempt to fix the Dallas Cowboys' defense, we went out and hired a coach who is half Buddy Ryan and half...Big Lebowski?
After watching the Cowboys surrender yards, points and losses in epic proportions in 2010, I guess we're desperate for any cure. But this, considering Rob Ryan's evil bloodline, is going to be a bitter remedy. You might see Rob as the burly, jovial, spastic defensive coordinator who won two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and who led improving units in Oakland and Cleveland the last seven years. Not unlike Jeff Bridges' character "The Dude" in the Coen Brothers classic, you might welcome him as a cartoonish, narcissistic Neanderthal complete with long gray feathered hair and colorful vocabulary.
But to some of us, it'll be difficult to get past Rob as the son of a Buddy.
"It seemed like everybody envied the old Cowboys," Buddy said last week from his home in Kentucky. "That's why it was so much fun beating them."
Before we comprehend Rob's new 3-4, we need to understand his DNA.
Buddy Ryan began his long, illustrious coaching career at Gainesville High School in 1957. Always a defensive coach with a keen eye and innovative intuition for putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he helped the Jets limit the mighty Baltimore Colts to seven points in their monumental upset in Super Bowl III. He then developed the famed "46" defense, which implements a safety as a linebacker and was named after the uniform number of former Bears safety Doug Plank. That defensive scheme smothered offenses (his team beat the Cowboys 44-0), set NFL records and led the 1985 Chicago Bears to win Super Bowl XX. Along the way, Buddy didn't care whose toes he trampled. So divided were the Bears that players carried defensive coach Ryan off the field just as others hoisted head coach Mike Ditka atop their shoulders.
Buddy then earned the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles and, after picking fights with Ditka, proceeded to punk Tom Landry. In October of 1987, a strike forced teams to use replacement, or "scab" teams. Cowboys veterans such as Danny White, Tony Dorsett and Randy White crossed the picket line and played in a game in which Dallas beat the Eagles team of over-matched rentals, 41-22, at Texas Stadium. Blue-collar Philadelphia is a pro-union town that already hated the Cowboys, and now despised Landry and his selfish veteran players even more so.
Two weeks later after the strike ended, the Cowboys' regular team traveled to Veterans Stadium for a game against the regular Eagles. Already leading 30-20 in the final minute, Eagles' quarterback Randall Cunningham kneeled down twice in an apparent sign that the game was over. But Ryan—bloodthirsty for revenge—had Cunningham fake a third kneel-down and instead rise up and throw a deep pass against an unsuspecting Dallas defense. The play drew a pass interference penalty and with one second remaining, running back Keith Byars scored a touchdown to run up the final score to 37-20.
"I promised Philadelphia we were going to beat Dallas when they came to play us and that's what we did," Buddy said. "None of us liked the fact that they played their starting front four and Dorsett in the second half in that replacement game. I mean, I had guys off the street."
In 1989, Buddy placed a bounty of $200 on Dallas kicker Luis Zendejas. The Cowboys, 1-10, were steamrolled by Ryan's Eagles, 27-0, and game films clearly showed that on Dallas' only kickoff of the day, three Eagles' players side-stepped their normal blocking responsibilities and went straight for Zendejas, who had disparaging words for Ryan after the Eagles had cut him in training camp.
After the game—dubbed The Bounty Bowl—Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson fumed.
"I have absolutely no respect for the way they played the game," he said. "I would have said something to Buddy, but he wouldn't stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room."
To this day, Buddy savors not only the wins over Dallas, but his knife-twisting exclamation points.
"I enjoyed beating Dallas," said Ryan, who was 8-2 against the Cowboys from 1986-90. "But now with Rob there, I'll root for them. Of course I will."
This is the franchise that forced its fandom to cheer for Terrell Owens, so a family tree that includes twin brother and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan can be forgiven as part of the painful rebuilding process. Besides, there's a lot to like about Rob. First of all, he's nothing like Wade Phillips.
Under the soft doting of Phillips, the Cowboys defense inexplicably caved in 2010. Players such as cornerback Mike Jenkins and linebacker Anthony Spencer regressed and Dallas—after being ranked in the top 10 three straight seasons—fell to No. 23 in overall defense. Biggest reason for the Cowboys going 6-10 in a season that began with Super Bowl expectations? The defense gave up at least 27 points 10 times and set 50-year franchise records for yards (5,628) and points (436) allowed. Though DeMarcus Ware (15.5 sacks) remains an elite pass-rusher, there are holes to be patched. Those holes are mostly in the secondary, where veteran cornerback Terence Newman grew old overnight and where the safety position, manned by Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball, must be upgraded.
The Browns ranked 22nd in defense last year, up from 31st in 2009. Under Ryan's aggressive 3-4 scheme, they had 19 interceptions and allowed only seven rushing touchdowns. They also probably led the league in confidence from its coordinator. During last year's disappointing season, the Cleveland media asked Rob if he was nervous about losing his job.
"If they bring somebody else in, good luck," he responded. "Because he isn't going to be nearly as good as I am."
We didn't get to hear any such bravado last week because the Cowboys trumpeted the hiring not with a press conference, but rather a simple e-mail press release. Media requesting interviews with Rob were told no assistants would be available to talk until after the draft in late April.
Which begs the question: How the hell is this odd-couple relationship going to work? Head coach Jason Garrett is buttoned-up, conservative, Ivy League-educated and talks coachspeak fluently. Rob Ryan is F-bombs.
So far it's clear that owner Jerry Jones didn't lie when he promised to relinquish some control to his new head coach. Make no mistake, this is Garrett's hire. More so, the decision not to allow Rob an opening stand-up act at Valley Ranch is all Garrett and no Jones.
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Not sure if the new defensive coordinator will eventually command the spotlight from his head coach, whether he will push the Cowboys to draft a play-making cornerback such as Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, or if he's capable of maximizing what we think is still a talented group of defenders.
But in the final analysis a couple things are certain:
Phillips was a dud.
And we have to swallow our pride, grit our teeth and hope that Buddy's boy is indeed a dude.