In a periodic series this offseason, Pat Kirwan takes a look at some of the biggest moves involving coordinators, who these coaches are, their philosphies and schemes, and ultimately predict if the marriage with their new team and the personnel they inherit will work. The first in this series takes a look at Rob Ryan, who moved laterally from the Cleveland Browns to coordinate the defense of the Dallas Cowboys.
Talk about an overall NFL makeover. There have been 23 new offensive and defensive coordinators hired this offseason, to say nothing of the special teams coordinators hired also. I was surprised to count up all the coordinator changes, considering the ongoing labor situation and the potential limited practice time.
The 2011 season will feature 13 new defensive coordinators. There is little doubt these men will have a great impact on the outcome of next season. Just a few short weeks ago, some of the biggest storylines surrounding Super Bowl XLV were the defensive coordinators, Dom Capers of the Green Bay Packers and Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They brought all kinds of pressure from a base 3-4 defense and, as usual, teams will look to follow suit and find a coach with a similar philosophy.
The decision to hire
Remus "Rob" Ryan is the son of Buddy Ryan and the twin brother of Jets coach Rex Ryan. Rob has a presence in a room; he can be boastful and engaging. He can appear like a standup comedian at times, and an extremely aggressive coach as well. The Cowboys were looking for an aggressive 3-4 coach with coordinator experience to compliment first-time head coach Jason Garrett. Garrett's expertise on offense makes for a perfect situation for a veteran defensive coordinator such as Ryan.
Dallas interviewed Vic Fangio and Greg Manusky for this job, and while both landed coordinator jobs elsewhere, Ryan -- and his contrasting personality to Garrett's -- looks like a solid pick to bring some energy and attitude to a defense that needs an emotional repair job. The previous defensive coordinators were good coaches, but quiet and a lot less flamboyant than Ryan.
Rob's father, Buddy, was the first great influence on his coaching career. As a ball boy for the Bears, he watched his father's "46" defense dominate the NFL. The "46" was an attacking defense that refused to give an inch on the ground. In today's game, there are some "46" principles, but offenses changed since it was first introduced and found ways to beat the "46" with a spread passing attack.
Rob has other great influences in his coaching career. The biggest is probably Rex, whose high-pressure defense was developed with the Baltimore Ravens and refined with the Jets. There are similarities to Rob's philosophy. Rob also spent significant time with Bill Belichick as his linebackers coach, which might be the stop in his career that gave him the foundation to teach technique, as well as packaging up pressure calls with different players. Ryan was around players like Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, and he really learned how to get the most out of older veterans without wearing them out.
After Oakland, it was a return to the Belichick coaching tree with a two-year stint as Cleveland's coordinator under coach Eric Mangini. That was a more restrictive situation for Ryan's personality, with Mangini requiring his coaches to be low profile and rarely available to the press.
Ryan is a base 3-4 coach, and the Cowboys were built by former coach Bill Parcells to be a 3-4 defense. The first thing that will change in Dallas are the pressure calls in every down-and-distance situation.
Here's a look at what happened when Ryan came in as defensive coordinator in Oakland and Cleveland with the year before his arrival and his first season with the percentage increase in pressure calls:
Notice that not only does he come in and pressure more than the year before in most situations by more than 10 percent, but pressure calls from team to team increase. Keep in mind, Ryan heated it up in 2010 to another level: 45 percent on first downs, 56 percent on second downs and 75 percent on third downs.
Here are my projections for Dallas in 2011:
Ryan will get along just great with Garrett, who believes in using pads at practice, tackling and contact most days, a toughness, and very little excuse-making. I have been to a camp where a defense led by Ryan was training, and I have seen how he likes to have his guys compete against the offense every day. Garrett will be just as competitive. Practice in Dallas will be much more aggressive with these two guys on the field.
Will it work?
Ryan knows he has more talent on this defense than he had in Cleveland and probably Oakland, too, starting with DeMarcus Ware, who told me at the Super Bowl that he and his teammates are fired up to play for their new coordinator. There is some concern around the league that Ryan is going to angle to be the center of attention, much like his dad did in Chicago when he was working for Mike Ditka. A few coaches who have worked with Ryan say they believe that will not be the case in Dallas. Ryan will be a positive addition, not a liability.
He likes to say points given up and turnovers are the categories that interest him the most. It might take more than one year for the Cowboys to repair their points allowed, and it will be tough to match in turnovers. Last year, the once-mighty Dallas defense gave up the most points per game in franchise history (27.3).
When Ryan went to Oakland and Cleveland, his defenses actually gave up more points in his first seasons there than they did the year before without him (23.7 points allowed per game by Oakland in 2003, 27.3 under Ryan in 2004; 21.9 points allowed per game by Cleveland in 2008, 23.4 under Ryan in 2009), but in both places things got better in the second and third years.
Installing a system, getting all the right types of players and learning to play fast takes time. As for turnovers, he would do well to just match the 30 the 2010 team generated. Ryan's first season in Cleveland, the Browns dropped from 31 the year before to 19, but bounced right back to 28 last year.
I think things will work out well for the Dallas defense under Ryan. He has a good nose tackle in Jay Ratliff, an elite pass rusher in Ware, a solid outside linebacker opposite Ware in Anthony Spencer, and a potential star corner in Mike Jenkins. I was surprised the Cowboys didn't go after O.J. Atogwe with their issues at safety, but they have three draft picks in the top 71 selections, and a free agency period (once a new CBA is in place) to make adjustments.
If Ryan can get two of those three picks for defense and/or add a piece in free agency -- especially at defensive end or safety -- he will turn this unit around in a year or two.