Ryan making his father proud with Jets' run
Buddy Ryan's advice to son Rex when he took over as head coach of the New York Jets a year ago was simple: "Don't screw it up."
No problem, Dad.
Borrowing a page from his irascible father's playbook, Ryan and the upstart Jets are on the brink of the Super Bowl.
Buddy Ryan, who began his pro football coaching career with the Jets in the 1960s and was the linebackers coach for the New York defense that shut down the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, is impressed.
"He's done a great job," Buddy Ryan said Tuesday. "He's turned it into an aggressive team."
It's the Ryan Way.
Ryan grew up watching his dad — a Korean War veteran who turned to football after graduating from Oklahoma State — build some of football's top defenses behind a relentlessness that focused on creating havoc on the field.
The Jets have done the same throughout their surprising playoff run, dominating the Cincinnati Bengals then shutting down the high-powered San Diego Chargers on Sunday to advance to their first AFC Championship game in 11 years.
The team that takes the field against the Indianapolis Colts has all the hallmarks of a Ryan-coached club, namely a tough defense and a swagger that filters from the top down.
The Jets playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl is a prospect few thought possible when the season started. Buddy Ryan, however, was optimistic.
"When I was in training camp I thought they had a (heck) of a team," Buddy Ryan said. "They have a good offensive line. The best defense in the league. Everything he said he'd get, he did get."
Thanks in part to the influence of his father. the younger Ryan coached under his dad for two years with the Arizona Cardinals in the 1990s.
"I learned more football from him than anywhere else," Rex Ryan said.
Including his father's sense of gamesmanship.
When the Jets began the playoffs as a longshot, Rex put together a map that highlighted the parade route the team would take after winning the Super Bowl.
It was meant to give the Jets a confidence boost. It also drew a chuckle from his dad, who never shied away from controversy during his lengthy coaching career.
Through it all Buddy Ryan was beloved by his players. The Chicago Bears carried Ryan off the field next to head coach Mike Ditka after Ryan's vaunted "46 Defense" helped the Bears destroy the New England Patriots 46-10 in the 1985 Super Bowl.
The Jets have similarly warmed to Rex Ryan.
"He's honest and he knows his business and players know that and that's what they want," said Buddy Ryan, who lives in Kentucky and will be in the stands on Sunday.
Buddy Ryan, who says he and Rex will have dinner Saturday night, says his son usually calls after each game.
There's plenty to talk about. Rex Ryan has been able to do something in his first year with the Jets that his father wasn't able to do: Win a playoff game as a head coach. Buddy Ryan went 0-3 in the playoffs while coaching the Eagles.
Those losses taught important lessons to his son.
"I think he had a lot of really good Philly teams," Rex Ryan said. "I think if they had kept him there, he would have won a few Super Bowls. I truly believe that. They had the youngest team in the league when they fired him."
The Jets have their fair share of youth, including rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Not that it seems to have mattered during the playoff run, as Sanchez has used the league's best defense to grow up on the job.
Then again, having a Ryan-coached defense atop the league standings is nothing new. Buddy Ryan helped the Jets have the AFL's top defense in 1968, the year the Jets and quarterback Joe Namath upset the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl.
"That's something my dad was very proud of," Rex said. "When (former Jets coach Weeb) Eubank hired him, he had to make a difference. If he felt he wasn't making a difference, then his career as a professional coach would be short."
Instead, Buddy Ryan's influence is felt to this day.
"Going against a Buddy Ryan defense, Rex Ryan defense or whatever Ryan you're going against that day, it's going to be a proud tradition," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris. "They are going to be physical, tough men out there playing against you. You know that. You've got to be ready to deal."
The Ryans wouldn't have it any other way.