Sons weave Ryan thread in Ravens, Raiders

With Buddy Ryan as their father, Rex and Rob have faultless genes as NFL defensive bosses.

August 17, 2005|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Even hundreds of miles apart, twin brothers Rex and Rob Ryan take good-natured shots at one another. They've always been competitive, regardless of whether the competition involved baseball, wrestling or marbles.

Rob is in his second year as defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. Rex is in his first season as defensive coordinator of the Ravens.

"I wish him the best of luck, and I told him he'll have the second-best defense in the league," Rex said.

When told of those comments, Rob replied: "We've been on different sidelines six times, and I've beaten him more times than he's beaten me. Also, remind him that I have two Super Bowl rings and he has only one. The old man has three, and that's going to be tough to beat."

The old man, of course, is Buddy Ryan, 71, former coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals and architect of the 46 defense used by the 1985 Chicago Bears, one of the best defenses in league history.

Buddy had an impressive resume dating to his days as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings in the mid-1970s.

Rex and Rob, 42, grew up around Alan Page, Walter Payton and Mike Singletary, but they learned their work ethic from their dad. They are as demanding and exude the same confidence as Buddy, but don't show quite the arrogance.

And neither one is as tough as their father, who once threw a couple of punches at offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride when they were on the same sideline and staff with the Houston Oilers.

"He grew up in a different era," Rex said. "He was a master sergeant in the Korean War when he was 18. If I grew up in that type of situation, leading men into battle for their lives at 18, I would be tougher, too."

The name Ryan and toughness are synonymous in football circles. Buddy was one of six children who grew up in the Great Depression and the Oklahoma dust bowl era of the 1930s and '40s. His father, D.A. "Red" Ryan, was a house painter and bull rider on a small rodeo circuit, a hard-nosed Oklahoma cowboy.

Buddy has a similar personality. He didn't have to whip his kids; he just stared at them. Buddy divorced his wife, Doris, when the two boys were 6, but even to that point, they had spent most of their lives with their mother in Canada.

Then life changed when the twins started seventh grade.

"That's when we stayed with Dad," Rob said. "Up until that point, Rex and I thought we were the toughest two kids in Canada. We were behind in school because we weren't forced to do anything. He [Buddy] had discipline, but he was also fair.

"We had jobs as long as I can remember, going back to newspaper routes in the second grade. He taught us about hard work, respect, being honest and straightforward."

Rex and Rob always hung around the pro camps with Buddy. They were water and towel boys. But Buddy saw them absorbing knowledge even at a young age.

Football education

"I tried to get them to go into food management services," said Buddy, smiling.

"They weren't normal ballboys. ... They were paying attention. They were around great coaches, learning all the time."

Of course, they learned the most from Buddy. Three years after the Bears won the Super Bowl in January 1986, Buddy gave them the full book on the 46 defense. In 1995, as the Cardinals' head coach, he hired both as defensive assistants. Arizona ranked in the top five in every defensive category that season.

Since then, the sons have taken similar paths, and their philosophies remain the same, the same one used by Buddy: attack and pressure the quarterback by confusing the offense with a different number of eight-man fronts.

Those principles have become standard around the league. The Ravens used them some in 2000. Jeff Fisher uses them a lot with the Tennessee Titans.

You can still see the respect modern-day players have for Buddy. When he attended a Ravens practice recently, cornerback Deion Sanders playfully bowed down before him. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis gave him a big hug. Defensive lineman Kelly Gregg hustled across the field to shake his hand.

Buddy is expected to fly to Houston to join Rob for the Raiders' preseason game with the Texans on Saturday.

"He was 50 years ahead of his time as far as coaching defenses, analyzing offenses and knowing how to attack them," Rex said of his father. "Like Sid Gillman was the offensive guru, Buddy Ryan was one of the defensive gurus of this game."

The sons have a hotline to their father, calling him two or three times a week. It's not always for consultation, but just to let him know what they're going to be doing during the week.

Family vacations, though, are different. Last year, the entire Ryan clan went to Hawaii. Buddy stayed on one island with Rex's family, and then another island with Rob's.

Did anyone bring out an X's and O's board?

"We don't play dominoes," Buddy said. "Even when Rex comes to visit down on the farm [in Lawrenceburg, Ky.] for vacation, we're talking about football."

Raving about Ravens

Buddy spent three days with the Ravens recently. It was just like the old days in Chicago and Philadelphia. He was out on the field, looking over the play list, going through alignments.

He loves the Ravens, especially Lewis. And now that he's retired, there's nothing better than watching both his boys' games on satellite TV.

"They're going to have a hell of a team," Buddy said of the Ravens. "Teams are not only going to respect them, but fear them. If they fear you, that's one hell of a plus on your side. That's what great defense is all about."

It's the Ryan way.

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Philadelphia Eagles (0-1) at Ravens (0-1)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

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