Ryan swaggers into Cardinals' post

February 04, 1994|By Steve Schoenfeld | Steve Schoenfeld,Arizona Republic

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Nice Guys are out. Buddy Ball is in.

Buddy Ryan ball.

Ryan, the Houston Oilers defensive coordinator, was hired as coach and general manager of the Phoenix Cardinals yesterday, a move that sent shock waves through the NFL.

"Does Bill Bidwill know what he did?" one NFL executive said.

What the Cardinals owner did was replace Joe Bugel, Mr. Nice Guy, with one of the league's most controversial coaches, James David "Buddy" Ryan, who signed a four-year contract for close to $500,000 a year.

It's a strange marriage: the bow-tied, painfully shy Bidwill and the brash, outspoken Ryan.

"We'll be playing Buddy Ball," Ryan said. "It's smart, physical, aggressive football."

Is there another coach who would clap for himself upon being introduced on the stage in Tempe? Then Ryan announced, "We've got a winner in town."

"All you have to do is look who he hired," Ryan said of Bidwill. "That will show you he wants to win."

Ryan, a 24-year NFL coaching veteran, was an assistant on the staffs of three Super Bowl teams -- the 1968 New York Jets, the 1976 Minnesota Vikings and the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Jets and Bears were Super Bowl winners.

He went 43-35-1 as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1986 to 1990. But he was fired after the Eagles failed to win a playoff game in three consecutive years.

"I'm concerned about winning football games," said Bidwill, whose Cardinals team hasn't had a winning season since 1984 and has not reached the playoffs in a non-strike year since 1975, the longest drought in the league. "[Ryan] wants to win. His record is attractive."

Bidwill said he wasn't concerned about Ryan's antics with the Eagles and Oilers. Ryan once called Eagles general manager Harry Gamble "the illegitimate son" of owner Norman Braman.

In this season's nationally televised regular-season finale, Ryan took a swing at Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the sideline.

"It happens all the time," Bidwill said of coaches fighting. "It just got caught on TV."

Said Ryan: "He [Bidwill] is a man's man. He understands that in the heat of the battle, when things aren't going like they should, things happen."

Bidwill gave Ryan unprecedented power. Ryan will have control over the football operation, including player-personnel matters.

Bugel, fired 12 days ago after going 20-44 in four seasons, reported to a general manager, Larry Wilson, who resigned last month. Bugel also didn't have final say on free agents and the college draft.

"I think that if you are the coach, it's important you make the decisions on personnel," Ryan said. "You look over the history of the NFL, the guys in charge are the guys who win."

Ryan let the Cardinals know he was interested in the position after Bugel was fired. But Bidwill already had been given Ryan's name by a team official, who compiled a list of candidates.

The Cardinals didn't get serious about Ryan until after Norv Turner, offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-champion Dallas Cowboys, turned them down Monday night for the Washington Redskins.

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