Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has 23 years experience coaching football at the collegiate and professional levels. He is entering his second season as the leader of a Cleveland Browns 3-4 defense that appeared, on the surface at least, to make huge strides at the end of 2009.
In addition to his experience as a football coach, Rob Ryan is known as one of the best interviews in sports. Cleveland Plain Dealer Columnist Bud Shaw probably summed it up best when he called for Ryan to be named "Assistant Head Coach of Press Conferences."
Ryan is the son of famed former Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator and NFL Head Coach Buddy Ryan, and the twin brother of New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan. He was born in Oklahoma and played linebacker and defensive end at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
Rob began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at both Western Kentucky in 1987 and Ohio State in 1988. He matriculated to Tennessee State from 1989-1993 where he coached the running backs, followed by the wide receivers and finally, the defensive line.
From 1994-95, Ryan was the Arizona Cardinals defensive backs coach, and coached Aeneas Williams, who went to the Pro Bowl both years. In 1995, the Cardinals led the NFL with 32 interceptions and in 1994 they were second in pass defense.
In 1996 he landed his first defensive coordinator job at Hutchinson Community College. While he was at Hutchinson in 1996, they led the nation in total defense and sacks. His defense set a national record by forcing 49 turnovers.
Hutchinson led to a huge step up when he was named the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 1997. He was there from 1997-99 and was named the Coordinator of the Year by The Sporting News in 1997.
In 2004, he was hired as the Oakland Raiders Defensive Coordinator and held the position until 2008. In 2006, Ryan's Raiders led the NFL in pass defense, was third overall, and was fourth in fewest yards allowed.
In the other four years, the Raiders ranked 27th overall in defense in 2008, 22nd in 2007, 27th in 2005 and 30th in 2004.
At times Ryan has shown a propensity for accepting responsibility. After a loss to the Broncos in 2008, Ryan responded to a question from the National Media with this expletive laced tirade:
"Hell I've been through some tough times. S--t, look at this... I've got gray [hair]. I've got it. This is the National F---ing Football League, you're not going to be on point every week. Am I pissed off about (last) Monday night? You're d--- right. But it's on me and G-d--- it, enough's enough.
Come on, guys. Put it on me, let's not make up some bulls--t. I've been here five years, let's just get it out on the f---ing table and get it done with. Okay, I'm man enough to do that, alright.
Our whole team's disappointed, alright, but we have excellent players, guys working their a-- off and it didn't go well. I'll be the same guy in front of you next week when we kick a--."
Rob, in typical Ryan fashion, called himself a "great coach" and said, "I will be a head coach in this league, and I will be damn successful, too."
In Ryan's defense the Raiders have never had a reputation for acquiring players in an organized, strategic manner and many believe he simply didn't have the personnel in Oakland to pull of his multiple front defense.
Last season we got our first exposure to the media magnet that is Rob Ryan the week of the Buffalo Bills game, when he said in reference to Bills starting quarterback Trent Edwards, "I don't think that's [Bengals quarterback] Carson Palmer back there by any stretch."
Since we were all used to Eric "Mumbles" Mangini answering every question about anything Browns related in the same neutral monotone, we were all left in shocked awe.
The Browns started the season 1-10 and Ryan was asked if he felt any pressure to do a better job and he answered “There aren’t any coaches out there who are going to do a better job than me. Well, maybe one, but he’s retired (his father, former longtime coach Buddy Ryan). Maybe when I was a young, I would have been scared in a situation like this, but not now. I know I’m a great coach, and if I get fired here, then I’ll go somewhere else and be a great coach. I know I can coach anywhere. But I want it to be here, with the Cleveland Browns"
The Browns ended 2009 on a four-game winning streak that included a memorable week 14 win against our most bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Ryan's defenders sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times and held the Steelers' offense to six points.
The Browns only gave 216 total yards and had four other quarterback hits as they blitzed early and often and the defense as a whole played their best ballgame of the year.
Even in their four-game winning streak, the defense still gave up large chunks of yardage in two of the games and won by one score in three of them. The overall record of the four teams they defeated was 25-39.
In 2009 the Cleveland Browns ranked 31st in total defense. They allowed 23.4 points per game which was 22nd in the league. They allowed 389.3 yards per game which ranked 31st. Of that total, 244.7 was passing, which was 29th in the league and 144.6 was rushing, which was 28th in the league.
Even though the Raiders currently have a coach, Tom Cable, Ryan had no qualms expressing interest in the job recently, saying, "Hell, yeah, I'd have interest, I haven't talked to Mr. Davis because he has a coach. Let's see what happens."
When Ryan went to East Carolina for their pro-day he took one look at 28-year-old rookie Kwaku Danso and said "Who the hell is that?" and "I love the look in his eye!" and despite only having played in three collegiate games, Danso signed a contract and is in Browns camp.
Ryan is an equal opportunity offender, even tossing some smack our way with this one: "Despite what everybody says, and not you beat writers, because you know. I think you know we’re going to be good, but some of the other people outside looking in, they don’t know 'bleep' in my opinion."
When God gave out egos he surely blessed the Ryan clan with their fair share as evidenced by this beauty: "Nothing comes easy," Rob says of his wait for an opportunity. "There are a lot of good coaches out there, but there are only so many Ryans."
The Browns have reworked their secondary adding cornerbacks Sheldon Brown and Joe Haden, and drafting safeties T.J. Ward and Larry Asante. They have also signed linebacker Scott Fujita and brought in linebacker Chris Gocong via trade to go with a number of undrafted rookie free agent defensive linemen and defensive backs.
Add in the emergence of young players like Marcus Benard and Brian Schaefering and to Ryan's eyes, the future looks brighter.
"A lot of his teammates were circling Roethlisberger like a bunch of buzzards and then he would step up and then Schaefering would knock the crap out of him."
"With Marcus Benard, he's a [heck] of a talent and [heck] I know talent, I think we knew what we had, I know we knew what we had and it was just a chance to get him out there and unleash him on somebody," says Rob about Marcus Benard.
Provided restricted free agents, safety Abe Elam and linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Matt Roth, eventually sign contracts there is no reason to believe that Ryan can't make a substantial jump in the league rankings this year with his defense.
“Matt Roth is a tough throwback guy that I know Cleveland loves. We’ve appreciated the guy since he’s been here and hopefully we are all back here together because that sucker is a fine player."
In 2009 Mangini and Ryan often were put in a position of calling for defensive schemes to try to mask the Browns' woeful coverage and tackling.
With three solid corners and better play from the safeties, Ryan, should be able to focus on creating havoc with his pressure style of defense this year.
Expect more stunts and complex blitzes with better play from the secondary.
Although the team's defensive front seven still lacks quality speed and playmaking, the combination of Ryan's playcalling, a steady group of veteran leaders and the influx of some young secondary talent could make this entire unit the unquestioned strength of the team in 2010.
Ryan is definitely an entertaining interview, but at various times he has shown some degree of coaching aptitude also. Early on in his coaching career he had an outstanding year at Hutchinson and followed that up with successful years at Arizona and Oklahoma State.
As a defensive coordinator at the NFL level he has had one top 20 year out of six so far. It would be easy for some to dismiss Ryan as a failure based solely on the numbers but I think we should reserve judgement until the end of the year.
The Raiders personnel department is not exactly the most stable in the NFL and Cleveland had a lot of injuries and a dearth of talent in the secondary last season. Let's see what Ryan does with this year's deck of cards before we rush to any judgements.
“The best player that I’ve ever seen on a field is L.T., without a doubt. He’s obviously a sure Hall of Famer. Nobody’s helped him to get there more than I have. He’s killed me more than probably any other coach. Please don’t look it up and make me sick."
"I know Cutler. The guy, he could throw a strawberry through a battleship."