Don’t look now, Dallas, but your resident football genius and redheaded step-son, Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett, has just hired “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski—aka, Rob Ryan— to whip your team’s defense into shape.
The Princeton scholar has hired a fellow who graduated from Clown College. Or was it Hamburger U?
Wait, it’s coming back to me now. Rob Ryan attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University. I think the entrance exam there consists of one problem: “Spell ‘Princeton.’ If You cannot do that, hit this tackling dummy hard enough and you are in.”
I could be wrong about the entrance exam. One thing I do know: Anytime your college has a multi-directional name, it is not likely to be invited to any BCS bowl games or produce many Rhodes scholars. It may, however, be the perfect breeding ground for a defensive guru with a nasty disposition.
Will it work—this unlikely pairing of Garrett and Remus “Rob” Ryan? (That is right. If Wikipedia can be trusted, Rob’s given name is Remus. I cannot confirm that Rex’s given name is Butthead.)
Well, it just might.
Some matches are made in Heaven, they say. Some are decidedly hatched in hotter regions. We won’t know if the oddest couple to coexist in Dallas since Tex Schramm and Tom Landry will work until it does…or doesn’t.
At first blush, I was against this hire, mainly because Rob is a Ryan, the son of Buddy and the brother of Rex. Rex has mostly kept his annoyances in the Northeast, but Buddy Ryan was Public Enemy Number One in Dallas for years.
Then, I remembered why we hated Buddy around here. It was because his Philadelphia Eagles team was good and he rubbed our royal football noses in it. How dare a blue-collared, green-jacketed yard gnome upstage the best-dressed man in football. How dare Buddy Ryan disrespect the legendary Tom Landry.
But the man could coach defense. Just ask the 15 teams the 1985 Chicago Bears annihilated on their way to a near-perfect season and a resounding Super Bowl victory. Can you remember any other Super Bowl where the defensive coordinator of the victorious team was carried off the field on his players’ shoulders?
Rex Ryan seems to have his father’s knack for coaching up the “D” while rubbing every other cat in the NFL’s fur the wrong way. He also has his Jets—a team with an offense only slightly worse than that of the Trinity High School Trojans’ in Euless, Texas—in the AFC Championship game for the second consecutive year.
The Ryans are genetically predisposed to be bombastic, crude, in-your-face, and brimming with braggadocio and bravado. They are not above firing a shot across the enemy’s bow from the nearest media podium. They will call out players, argue with fellow coaches, and generally agitate.
The Ryans are also about defense—really, really good defense.
Garrett, conversely, is about structure and discipline. He is about doing the right things the right way “each and every day.” That “each and every day” thing is his favorite crutch phrase. Or is it a whip, cracked in his players’ ears over and over until they hear it in their dreams?
Garrett is also about innovative offense.
A successful coaching staff does not need to be homogenous. It doesn’t even have to be cohesive. (The Bears’ coach Mike Ditka once challenged his defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, to a fist fight at halftime.) It does need to be complementary. The strengths of one coach need to complement those of the other.
Rob Ryan will bring—along with an attacking, swarming 3–4 defense—a fire and passion to the sideline. He will inspire his players. He will hold them accountable, something Wade Phillips failed to do. And, he will not coddle them, something Phillips did with such fervor it made motherly look like a passing interest.
Ryan may be to the Cowboys’ sideline what the drunken uncle is to the family gathering. The adults hate to see him coming and hold their collective breath, wondering what he will say or do next. But if he wasn’t there, the whole affair would be drab and colorless. Atrophy would set in.
Besides, the kids love him.
Cowboys’ fans will love Ryan, too, if “The Dude” can coach them up a nasty, play-making, slobber-knocking defense.
So will Garrett.