Buddy turns the heat up in Arizona

July 29, 1994|By Dale Robertson | Dale Robertson,Houston Chronicle

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Buddy Ryan spoke barely a word Wednesday during his first practice as coach of the Arizona Cardinals, a job he acquired on the merits of his brief, outrageous -- and, yes, outrageously successful -- stint as defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers.

Mostly, Ryan watched. He had an almost professorial posture standing there, arms crossed, wearing a black straw hat, designer sunglasses and a deceptively gruff poker face.

In other words, he hadn't changed a bit, save for the color of his shorts.

"Shoot, Buddy's always going to be the same," said defensive coordinator Ronnie Jones, who followed his potbellied pied piper and personal mentor to Arizona. "It doesn't matter what his title might be. If he's an assistant coach, he's thinking he's the head coach anyway."

Jack Pardee, I suspect, can relate to that.

There was certainly no confusion about who was directing the Cardinals' oft-pummeled and -panned show, which Buddy has promised he'll take out of the little theater and on to Broadway.

"Lotta guys think they have to scream and holler to make sure everybody knows who's in charge," Ryan sniffed. "But I think everybody here already has that pretty well figured out."

Including Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill. Seeing as how his franchise hasn't won a playoff game since 1947, he'll try to subvert his own substantial, unpredictable ego and take his chances with giving Buddy a free rein, something no Bidwill subordinate has ever enjoyed.

"Buddy can be an outrageous sound bite, and I'm prepared for that," Bidwill said. "He shoots from the hip. He's very open. He says what he thinks, and he says it on the record, which I admire. I'm not going to tell him what he can and can't do."

"Buddy and I will clash at some point, I'm sure," Bidwill said. "I'm hoping we can keep it between us, inside [the organization]. But, if we don't, we don't. All he has to do is win, and all sins will be forgiven."

Bidwill said the spectacular season the Oilers' defense had last fall under Buddy's controversial tutelage intrigued him. Once he decided to fire Joe Bugel, he said he "started leaning" in Ryan's direction very quickly.

Never mind the poke Buddy had taken at the Oilers' offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, shortly before halftime of the Jets game in January.

Most folks assumed that ugly, embarrassing incident, televised nationally by ESPN, had destroyed Buddy's chances of becoming a head coach in the NFL again.

Wrong.

"I never asked him about it," Bidwill said. "That was an internal Houston Oilers matter."

Ryan, fired by Philadelphia after the 1990 season, had returned from a two-year NFL exile to join Pardee's Oilers staff for the sole purpose of positioning himself to receive another head coaching opportunity.

But will he do well with the Cardinals? Absolutely, if he can fix Arizona's defense. As Ryan said -- as only he would say it -- "they were [lousy] last year. Their system stunk."

"Nobody's better at building a defense than Buddy," said Jones. That's why I'm here, instead of with the Oilers, because I know I still have a lot to learn from him."

Although Ryan failed to drag any of his favorite Oilers out of Houston -- save for late-season fill-in Terry Hoage, an old Eagle -- he did add two of his Philly stalwarts, Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner, to make his X's and O's more workable with the Cardinals.

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