James David “Buddy” Ryan, the defensive genius who pioneered the 46 Defense, introduced offenses to Automatic Front Coverage, and embodied everything right about tough guy football, passed away this morning. He was 82 years old. Mostly, Buddy is remembered for coaching the 1985 Bears and developing the talents of some of the game’s most terrifying defensive players. His football acumen and love of the game can’t be understated. A number of fans were more drawn to Coach Ryan’s off-the-field attitude, that of a consummate hardass and strict disciplinarian. Buddy spoke his mind, often feuding with fellow coaches and putting down players who would go on to Hall of Fame careers. In loving memory of Coach Ryan, we’ve compiled some of his most memorable impacts on football and the people who love it.
5. The Singletary Saga
Mike Singletary came into the league in 1981 after a standout career at Baylor University. The Bears selected him in the second round, and by the seventh game he was starting at middle linebacker. That still wasn’t good enough for Buddy, who didn’t call Singletary by name for most of his early career. In a fashion that even the finest pledge educator could learn from, Ryan only called Singletary by number and rode him like a rented mule about his lack of size and speed. It shook Singletary to the core, and is one of the many things that Samurai Mike attributes to his success. Making great players even better is the mark of a legendary coach.
Philly fans are notorious for despising their own sports teams and not much else (sorry, Dan). When Ryan came to town, however, his legacy and status as a resident grump had fans excited. He groomed talents such as Reggie White on his way to making the Birds a force to be reckoned with on defense and, despite his inability to bring a ring to The City of Brotherly Love, Buddy still somehow never caught the ire that notable personalities like Donovan McNabb, TO, or Santa Claus drew.
3. A Farewell to Offense
It’s a widely held belief that offensive and defensive sides of a locker room are natural enemies, and nobody exemplified that better than Coach Ryan. When Buddy took the reins in Philadelphia, he immediately started cleaning house in his natural fashion. One of his dismissed players was running back Earnest Jackson, a player coming off a 1,000 yard season. When asked about Jackson, Ryan fired back that the Eagles could “Trade him for a six-pack, it doesn’t even have to be cold.” He also took the liberty of swinging on fellow assistant coach Kevin Gilbride after his aggressive play calling led to a fumble during a nationally televised game between his Oilers and the NY Jets.
No feud was as notable as his one with a fellow Bears great, however.
2. Dueling With Ditka
When you put two alpha males in the same pack, you’re bound to have tension. It can either make teams implode or make history. When the pairing was Iron Mike Ditka and Coach Ryan, the mixture led to the latter. One of the biggest storylines of the ’85 season was the frequent butting of heads that occurred between the head coach and his defensive coordinator, made most noticeable by split practices and a somewhat hostile locker room environment. In a 30 for 30, left tackle Jim Covert detailed his fights with defensive lineman Steve McMichael. Though Ditka and Ryan never came to actual blows, the fights on the field had the aura of being an extension of two polar opposites in constant conflict. Nothing detailed the team’s allegiance to their coaches better than the sight of Ryan on the shoulders of his defense after Super Bowl XX.
1. Changing the Game
Before Ryan began his practice of stacking the box, defenses weren’t notorious for going after quarterbacks. Instead, there was a sense of passivity on that side of the ball, a desire to wait for the ball to come to you rather than attacking it. Passive wasn’t Ryan’s style. He innovated ways to completely rattle his opponent’s heads, bringing enough personnel to make a QB as likely to shit his pants as get the ball off. While it started as a defensive movement, the impact that the idea of rushing the passer had on the game is seen to this day. When you see offenses calling elaborate protections, and outside linebackers who could be NBA power forwards, you can think of Buddy. He left a number of legacies. Two sons coaching at a high level and an impact on the men he coached were some of the finest. When you can look back and realize you intrinsically changed the game, that’s one of the biggest power moves of all. Rest in peace, Coach Ryan. Today, the angels are running a 46 Zone..
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