PHILADELPHIA -- Call this a decision deferred.
Buddy Ryan is a football coach without a contract extension. He also is a three-time loser in the first round of the National Football League playoffs.
But Ryan still has a job. At least temporarily.
After Ryan's Philadelphia Eagles were defeated by the Washington Redskins, 20-6, in a National Football Conference first-round playoff game yesterday, the coach who normally growls purred that he would like to return to the Eagles next season. The man who controls Ryan's future, Eagles owner Norman Braman, said he soon would evaluate the team's coaching situation.
Depending on your point of view, that's either good news or bad news for Ryan, whose five-year contract to coach the team expires within days.
"You know I want to come back," Ryan said. "I've built this team. Why would I want someone else to get all the credit?"
Braman made a post-game appearance in the Eagles locker room and said: "I'm going to evaluate [Ryan] at the end of the season. I'll make my opinion known soon."
The Ryan-Braman relationship often has been tumultuous. Ryan always has been regarded as a player's coach, one of the few in the NFL who openly ridiculed the league's use of replacement players to break a strike in 1987. Ryan also helped orchestrate tight end Keith Jackson's return from a botched exercise to gain a new contract.
"The only place Norman and I don't get along is in the newspapers," Ryan said after the loss to the Redskins.
The coach and owner met briefly after the game, shaking hands and exchanging regrets at another season short-circuited.
"It wasn't a great day for anyone," Braman said.
As usual, the Eagles players came to Ryan's defense after the game, questioning the value of a coaching change. Despite three straight playoff defeats, the Eagles have developed into one of the league's stronger teams during Ryan's tenure.
"I'll tell you this, if Buddy isn't back, it could be devastating to this team," Philadelphia safety Andre Waters said. "Buddy has proved he is a great coach. He has won 31 games his last three years, and we have had only one losing season since he has been here, and that was the first year. It would be a devastation not to have him with this team. He built this team, and it's just a matter of us getting over the hump and winning our first playoff game."
Linebacker Seth Joyner said a new coaching staff would be unable to squeeze out more victories with the talent Ryan has assembled. The Eagles' brand of defense, marauding and gambling, fits Ryan's philosophy of football.
"I'm not sure with this unit that we could make strides with a new coach," Joyner said. "You bring in another scheme, guys would be out of place. We'd be back at square one. Why rock the boat? It's a whole rebuilding process with a new coach. We'd be back at 1986 again."
Running back Keith Byars, the first player Ryan drafted for the Eagles, was more emphatic about the fate of the Eagles in a post-Ryan era.
"We'd take four or five steps backward," he said. "Right now, I can't see the season without Buddy coaching. Fire him? I hope the chance of that is slim and none. Buddy has been the key to our success. I think he'll be back. I honestly believe that."
Jackson said: "I do know one thing, and that's Buddy will be coaching next year. Whether he is coaching in Tampa Bay, Indianapolis or Philadelphia . . . well, no one knows."