Earlier today the sad news broke that the legendary coach Buddy Ryan died at the age of 82.
Ryan, the innovator of the 46 defense, started his coaching career in 1957 as an assistant coach at Gainesville High School in Texas. It took him 11 years – including a stretch of military service – to get to the highest level of football, becoming the New York Jets defensive line coach in 1968 and helping develop a game play to ruin the Baltimore Colts and limit their offense to just 7 points in Super Bowl III. While that game would be remembered for Jets quarterback Joe Namath’s guarantee of victory it was Ryan and Walt Michaels that delivered on that guarantee.
Ryan stayed with the Jets until 1976 when he moved to the Minnesota Vikings and was instrumental in the dominance of the “Purple People Eaters”. That group made three Super Bowls, two of which came under Ryan’s coaching.
However his biggest success and what he is remembered best for is his stint as defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears where Ryan created the 46 defense. The principle throughout his career had been to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. As a coordinator he could take it to the next level and basically try to retire or kill passers. The 46 defense exerted so much pressure on the pocket and prevent the quick pass with press cornerbacks. In 1985 the Bears defense was finally perfected and they smashed their way through the league before utterly destroying the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
“To stop a passing game, you can’t stop it unless you put pressure on it. Now some people are good enough to put it on with a three-man rush; well, we’re not. In fact, I don’t know whether we’re good enough to put it on with a four-man rush. If we have to send eight, we’ll send eight, but we’re not going to let you sit back there and pick us apart all day.”
While Ryan never achieved the ultimate success as a head coach his consistent effectiveness and innovation as a defensive coach earned him a respect and admiration that still lasts today.
Buddy Ryan’s influence has been extremely visible in the style his two sons, Rex and Rob, coach with. Both have been defensive-minded, blitz happy play callers who try to ruin quarterbacks with pressure rather than coverage.
They aren’t the only ones who have built their styles on the innovations of Buddy Ryan, and they won’t be the last. The game of football lost a great coach today, and our sympathies go out to his family.