Buddy Ryan

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For the Major League Baseball outfielder, see Buddy Ryan (baseball).
Buddy Ryan
Photograph of Ryan wearing dark pinstripe shirt
Ryan at White House in 2011
Personal information
Date of birth: (1934-02-17) February 17, 1934 (age 81)
Place of birth: Frederick, Oklahoma
Career information
College: Oklahoma A&M
Career history
As coach:
Career highlights and awards
Head coaching record
Regular season: 55–55–1 (.500)
Postseason: 0–3 (.000)
Career: 55–58–1 (.487)
Coaching stats at PFR

James David "Buddy" Ryan (born February 17, 1934) is an American former football defensive coordinator and head coach in the National Football League (NFL). During his 35-season coaching career, Ryan served as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, and the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears and Houston Oilers of the NFL.

Early years[edit]

Ryan was born and raised in a small, agricultural-based community "just outside of Frederick, Oklahoma."[1] Ryan played college football for Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State) where he earned four letters as a guard between 1952 and 1955. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.[2]


High school[edit]

Ryan began his coaching career at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Texas in 1957 as an assistant coach under Dub Wooten. When Wooten became head coach at Marshall Texas High School in 1959, Ryan was promoted to head coach at Gainesville. After one season at Gainesville, he "spent one year as high-school athletic director in Marshall, Texas."[3] Gainesville was his only head coach position until he was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles 25 years later.


After completing service in the military which included playing on the Fourth Army championship team in Japan,[3] Ryan became an assistant football coach, first at several colleges including Pacific, Vanderbilt,[4] and Buffalo,[5] then with several professional football teams, starting with the American Football League's New York Jets in the 1960s.

New York Jets[edit]

With the AFL's Jets, his and Walt Michaels' defensive game plan was instrumental in holding the NFL's Baltimore Colts to seven points in Super Bowl III and earning Ryan his first Super Bowl ring. Seeing the emphasis that Weeb Ewbank placed on protecting Joe Namath and his fragile knees, Ryan created multiple blitz packages (i.e. the "59 blitz", the "Taco Bell blitz", and the "Cheeseburger blitz") reasoning that the quarterback is the focal point of any offense, and that a defense must attack the offense's strength and centerpiece.[6]

Minnesota Vikings[edit]

In the mid-1970s Ryan served as defensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings where he was integral in directing the team's dominating defense. The defensive unit known as the "Purple People Eaters", was heralded for the defensive line's ability to punish rivals. Their motto was to "meet at the quarterback." This unit helped the Vikings to post-season appearances from 1973 to 1978, including three appearances in the Super Bowl.

Chicago Bears[edit]

In 1978, George Halas brought in Ryan as defensive coordinator. With the Bears, Ryan created the 46 defense, but it wasn't until 1985 that the scheme was perfected. This was due in large part because of Mike Singletary's ability to single-handedly dominate the middle of the field.[7] He became a household name of sorts in the mid-1980s. Then Bears head coach Neill Armstrong was fired in 1982.[8] The "defensive players lobbied Bears owner George Halas to let Ryan take over.",[9] or pleaded "for the owner to retain Ryan as defensive coordinator".[8] Mike Ditka was hired as the head coach. Ryan and Ditka "feuded openly",[10][11] though Ditka "delegated the defense to Buddy and left him in charge."[12] "Ditka challenged Ryan to a fight during halftime"[13] of the Bears' 1985 matchup versus the Miami Dolphins, with the team at 12–0 and trailing 31–10 in a nationally televised Monday Night Football broadcast. "The guys on the team had to separate them—the offense getting Ditka away from Ryan and defensive guys holding Buddy."[14] The Bears went on to lose the game 38-24, which was their only loss of the season. However the team would go on to Super Bowl XX where they would dominate the New England Patriots 46-10. The Bears defense carried Ryan off the field on their shoulders[15] "...right behind Mike Ditka", who was also being carried off the field.[11][16] This was the first time two coaches ever got carried off the field at the Super Bowl.[17]

After the Bears won Super Bowl XX that followed the 1985 regular season in which their defense set several NFL records, Ryan was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles as their head coach.[18]

Philadelphia Eagles[edit]

Ryan immediately became a Philadelphia fan-favorite when he boldly pronounced "You've got a winner in town.", "We plan on winning the Eastern Division,"[19] but also at times a divisive figure, at first releasing running back Earnest Jackson, who had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both of the previous two seasons,[20] and limiting the playing time of veteran quarterback Ron Jaworski. Ultimately Ryan proved that his talent selection was superior to most of the NFL as he groomed play-makers like Randall Cunningham, Reggie White, and Andre Waters and drafted Pro Bowlers Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Eric Allen, Cris Carter, Fred Barnett, and Keith Jackson. His division crown prediction did not come to fruition in his initial Eagles season but quick rebuilding achieved title glory in 1988, as the team won 10 games and continued to win at least 10 games a season until his departure.

Ryan's tenure in Philadelphia was not without its fair share of controversies. On October 25, 1987 he came under fire after a game against the Dallas Cowboys by scoring a touchdown in the final seconds, when the outcome was no longer in doubt.[21] This was apparently Ryan's revenge against Dallas head coach Tom Landry, who Ryan felt had run up the score against the Eagles' replacement players during the 1987 players' strike, using many of the Cowboys players that had crossed the picket line.[22] On November 22, 1989 Ryan found himself at the center of yet another scandal, when Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson alleged Ryan had taken out a "bounty" on two Cowboys players—then-current Dallas (and former Philadelphia) placekicker Luis Zendejas and quarterback Troy Aikman[23]—in a game dubbed "Bounty Bowl" played on Thanksgiving Day at Texas Stadium.[24]

Ryan was fired by the Eagles in 1991 after going 43-38-1 in five seasons, a total that included an 0–3 record in playoff games.[25] Ryan transformed a mediocre team unable to sell-out home games into the premier defensive unit in the NFL. Ryan's 1988 division title was the last time the Eagles won a division championship until 2001 as the Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins traded division titles in the ensuing years. However, Ryan was also the last Eagles coach to fail to win a playoff game until Chip Kelly, who coached the team from 2013-2015.

Ryan subsequently became a commentator before returning to coaching in 1993, this time as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers.

Houston Oilers[edit]

Ryan became the defensive coordinator in 1993, and his defensive team helped propel the Oilers to an 11-game winning streak at the end of the 1993 NFL season. On January 2, 1994, in the last game of the regular season against the New York Jets, Ryan was involved in a sideline altercation with the Oilers' offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride during the nationally-telecast game.[26]

Ryan had been criticizing Gilbride's "run and shoot", referring to it as the "chuck and duck."[27] Ryan thought that last-minute defensive stands lost him two players to injuries when the offense could have simply run the clock out. At the end of the first half in the game against the Jets, Gilbride called a pass play, and when Cody Carlson fumbled the snap, Ryan started yelling at Gilbride, who then started walking towards Ryan, yelling back. When they were at arm's length, "Ryan ... punched Gilbride in the jaw"[27] before linebacker Keith McCants and several other Oilers players separated them.[28] A recent NFL Network documentary showed that Buddy missed, but it was a close swing.

In the Oilers' next game, on January 16, during the divisional round of the 1993-94 playoffs, they were upset at home and eliminated by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Arizona Cardinals[edit]

After being given a large share of the credit for the success in Houston in 1993, he was named head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 1994.[29] "On arriving in Phoenix, Buddy Ryan announced, 'You've got a winner in town.'"[30] Also named general manager of the Cardinals, Ryan went 8-8 his first year, but had a 4-12 nosedive the following season, rife with criticism that he ran his two drafts poorly and mishandled Arizona's quarterback situation as a GM. He lasted only two seasons there[30] — where he had a record of 12-20 — before being fired again. He would subsequently retire to his farm in Kentucky, where he breeds race horses.


Ryan was an assistant on three different teams to make the Super Bowl (New York Jets, Chicago Bears, and Minnesota Vikings). Ryan built his reputation as a defensive specialist and was largely credited with implementing and perfecting the 46 defense.

As a head coach, Ryan enjoyed limited success with the Eagles. Although he quickly rebuilt the Eagles roster into a consistent NFC playoff contender, he never won a playoff game with the team. The 1991 Philadelphia Eagles defense, with a majority of players that Ryan selected, was one of the most statistically accomplished defenses in NFL history, pulling off the hat trick of allowing the fewest rushing yards, passing yards, and overall yards for the season. However, in an echo of the disappointments of the Ryan era, the 1991 Rich Kotite-coached team did not make the playoffs.

Ryan did not enjoy equal success as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, missing the playoffs in both his seasons with the franchise.

Stephen Majewski dedicated his book Great Linebackers (MetroBooks, 1997) to Ryan.[31]

As of January 2016, Buddy Ryan's twin sons are both NFL coaches: Rex Ryan is the head coach of the Buffalo Bills and Rob Ryan is the assistant head coach of defense for the Buffalo Bills.[32]

Personal life[edit]

Ryan was previously married to Doris, and had three sons, Jim and fraternal twins, Rex and Rob. Ryan and Doris divorced in 1962. Ryan has six grandchildren.

Ryan met his second wife, Joanie Ryan in 1968 when the two lived in the same apartment building in Bayside, New York while Ryan was an assistant coach with the New York Jets. The two married in 1970. Joanie died in September 2013 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.[33]

Today, Ryan lives in Shelbyville, Kentucky on his horse farm.

Head coaching record[edit]

Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
PHI 1986 5 10 1 .344 4th in NFC East - - - -
PHI 1987 7 8 0 .467 2nd in NFC East - - - -
PHI 1988 10 6 0 .625 1st in NFC East 0 1 .000 Lost to Chicago Bears in NFC Divisional Game.
PHI 1989 11 5 0 .688 2nd in NFC East 0 1 .000 Lost to Los Angeles Rams in NFC Wild Card Game.
PHI 1990 10 6 0 .625 2nd in NFC East 0 1 .000 Lost to Washington Redskins in NFC Wild Card Game.
PHI Total 43 35 1 .551 0 3 .000
ARI 1994 8 8 0 .500 3rd in NFC East - - - -
ARI 1995 4 12 0 .250 5th in NFC East - - - -
ARI Total 12 20 0 .375 0 0 .000
Total 55 55 1 .500 0 3 .000


  1. ^ Mark Bowden Bringing the Heat, p.78, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994, ISBN 0-87113-772-0
  2. ^ Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons The Eagles Encyclopedia, p. 119, Temple University Press, 2005, ISBN 1-59213-449-1
  3. ^ a b Mark Bowden Bringing the Heat, p.79, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994, ISBN 0-87113-772-0
  4. ^ Roy Taylor, "Chicago Bears History" p. 59, Arcadia Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0-7385-3319-X
  5. ^ "Meet "Buddy" Ryan New Defense Coach," University at Buffalo Sports History Collection - December 28, 2012.
  6. ^ Mark Bowden Bringing the Heat, p.80, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994, ISBN 0-87113-772-0
  7. ^ Sean Lahman The Pro Football Historical Abstract: A Hardcore Fan's Guide to All-Time Player Rankings", p.205, Lyons Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1-59228-940-0
  8. ^ a b Roy Taylor, "Chicago Bears History" p. 69, Arcadia Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0-7385-3319-X
  9. ^ Jonathan Rand 300 Pounds of Attitude: The Wildest Stories and Craziest Characters the NFL Has Ever Seen, pp. 58–59, Lyons Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59921-176-3
  10. ^ Don Pierson. "The Chicago Bears win the 1985 Super Bowl".. 2010-01-10. URL:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-chicagodays-1986superbowl-story,0,2581694.story. Accessed: 2010-01-10. [1]
  11. ^ a b Walter Harvey, "The Super Bowl's most wanted: the top 10 book of big-game heroes, pigskin zeroes, and championship oddities", p. 193, Brassey's Inc., 2004, ISBN 1-57488-889-7
  12. ^ Ray Didinger, "Game Plans for Success: Winning Strategies for Business and Life from 10 Top NFL Head Coaches", Mike Ditka, "Hands-on Management" pp. 49–70, p. 58, Contemporary Books, Inc., 1995, ISBN 0-8092-3171-9
  13. ^ Jonathan Rand 300 Pounds of Attitude: The Wildest Stories and Craziest Characters the NFL Has Ever Seen, p. 58, Lyons Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59921-176-3
  14. ^ Steve McMichael and Phil Ariva, "Steve McMichael's Tales from the Chicago Bears Sideline", p. 98, Sports Publishing L.L.C, 2004, ISBN 1-58261-800-3
  15. ^ Merrill Reese and Mark Eckel Merrill Reese "It's Gooooood!", p. 95, Sports Publishing Inc., 1998 ISBN 1-58261-000-2
  16. ^ William Taaffe and Dave Fischer, "Sports of the Times: a day-by-day selection of the most important, thrilling and inspired events of the past 150 years", p. 34, St. Martin's Press, 2003, ISBN 0-312-31232-6
  17. ^ Steve McMichael and Phil Ariva, "Steve McMichael's Tales from the Chicago Bears Sideline", p. 128, Sports Publishing L.L.C, 2004, ISBN 1-58261-800-3
  18. ^ "Ryan Signs 5-Year Eagle Contract". Los Angeles Times. 1986-01-29. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  19. ^ http://wc.arizona.edu/~wildcat/papers/old-wildcats/fall94/August/August24,1994/16_1_m.html
  20. ^ "Yet more Buddy Ryan stories". Eugene Register-Guard. 1986-09-23. Retrieved 2010-04-04. [dead link]
  21. ^ "He's sure no Buddy to the Cowboys". Eugene Register-Guard. 1987-10-27. Retrieved 2010-04-04. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Pro Football: Ryan Gets Revenge in the End". Los Angeles Times. 1987-10-26. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  23. ^ Dave Anderson. "Sports of The Times; The Backfire From Buddy Ryan's 'Bounties'"..2010-01-10. URL:http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/26/sports/sports-of-the-times-the-backfire-from-buddy-ryan-s-bounties.html?pagewanted=1. Accessed: 2010-01-10. http://www.webcitation.org/5mgKalTxp
  24. ^ "17 fined for 'Bounty Bowl'". Boca Raton News. Associated Press. 1989-12-22. Retrieved 2010-04-04. [dead link]
  25. ^ "Ryan Out In Philly". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. 1991-01-09. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  26. ^ Frank Litsky.."PRO FOOTBALL; Trying To Keep A Lid On Ryan" 2010-01-10. URL:http://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/11/sports/pro-football-trying-to-keep-a-lid-on-ryan.html?pagewanted=1. Accessed: 2010-01-10. http://www.webcitation.org/5mgPjIWZi
  27. ^ a b Jonathan Rand 300 Pounds of Attitude: The Wildest Stories and Craziest Characters the NFL Has Ever Seen, p. 69, Lyons Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59921-176-3
  28. ^ Lapointe, Joe (1994-01-04). "Pro Football; Is Game Still Football? Oilers Think It's Boxing". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  29. ^ Joe Drape. "On Ryan's Farm, Memories Fresh and Fading".. 2010-01-10. URL:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/03/sports/football/03ryan.html?scp=7&sq=buddy%20ryan&st=cse. Accessed: 2010-01-10. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5mgu4XMiL)
  30. ^ a b Pierre Mornell, "45 Effective Ways for Hiring Smart! : How to Predict Winners and Losers in the Incredibly Expensive People-Reading Game", p. 131, Ten Speed Press, 1998, ISBN 1-58008-514-8
  31. ^ textbooks.com - "textbooks.com". Retrieved 20 October 2014
  32. ^ http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14545272/rex-ryan-buffalo-bills-hires-rob-ryan-defense
  33. ^ Daily News (New York) http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/jets/buddy-ryan-wife-dies-alzheimer-battle-article-1.1471835.  Missing or empty |title= (help)