James David “Buddy” Ryan was the defensive line coach of the New York Jets from 1968 – 1975.
On Father’s day current Jets Head coach Rex Ryan took a timeout for some Q&A, about his father Buddy, with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Describe your dad.
A: I would assume most people think, “Hey, this guy’s kind of a hard-ass guy” and all that kinda stuff, which he is. He was a Master Sergeant in the Korean War when he was 18 years old, leading men in a battle for their lives. So I think, obviously, he’s got that exterior and all that, and that’s part of who he is. But he’s also a fair guy … and he was a great dad. Him and one other dad, a guy named Bud Abbott, would go to all our baseball games. So you’d look up there, and you’d see there’s two dads in the stands on road baseball games —
even home baseball games. Because by then, everybody realizes their kid’s not Mickey Mantle (chuckle), you know what I mean? In Pee Wee [leagues], they’re always there. But my dad would make almost everyone that he could.
Q: Did he play catch with you?
A: We did all that. Throwing the ball, you name it. Just like any other dad, get you in the backyard. Of course he’d probably hit you with the ball a few times, but (smile) — toughens you up. The one thing I always knew was Dad would always be there for me. No matter what the situation. Unfortunately, I put him in some bad situations (smile). But it was like … I knew he’d be there, phone call away, might be pissed at you, but he’d be there.
Q: What is the best piece of advice he ever gave you?
A: I always say it, and it sounds like nothing: Be true to yourself, I think that’s a big one. … And then (chuckle) he gave me one piece of advice, he said — he never wanted us to fight — but he said,
“Anytime you’re in a fight, never walk away a loser.” And I think that’s part of maybe the mentality that I have. ’Cause I think I’m in a fight. You’re fighting for your job, you’re fighting for whatever it is or you’re in an actual fight. Maybe that’s something that resonates with me.
There’s something about him that men trusted, and wanted to follow.
Q: Do you remember the day you told him you wanted to be a coach?
A: In high school, we wanted to be coaches. He tried to convince [ me and my twin brother Rob] to absolutely not go into coaching. ’Cause he said, all we see are the Super Bowls and all that stuff, you don’t see what it’s really like. But we did. We loved the game.
Q: What did he want you to do?
A: Well we had business opportunities, actually go into management almost immediately, and that was because of the way we worked with others, that the company (A.R.E. Foods in Philadelphia) that we were under, was gonna give us managing jobs. And they were like, “These guys can motivate people. That they work different around you guys than they do other people.” Even the hard-asses, or whatever. That we just had a natural way of leading, apparently. But I don’t know anything about business. All I wanted to do was coach.
” I know he was around a lot of great coaches growing up. Weeb Ewbank. Bud Grant. Neill Armstrong. As a ball boy on some of them teams, he was always working and learning how to coach.”
Q: Did you call your dad when you learned the Jets were hiring you?
A: That was when he said, “Don’t screw it up.” That was his team. (Chuckle) The Jets are his team [he was a defensive line coach from 1968-75]. But he was so proud and everything else.
But shortly thereafter, he got really sick, where he’s in the hospital, he had encephalitis. And that’s something that kills a lot of people, but it can’t kill him. It was like, “Here, I’ve got this great opportunity,” and now it’s lke, “Damn, this guy’s fighting for his life,” you know what I mean? But I remember having those conversations with him right after I took it, he was so proud.
Q: Did he give you any advice then?
A: No, he knew. I worked all my life to get that position. And I was ready. And I think that was the deal where … I knew it, nobody else did.
Now what I didn’t know (chuckle) is everything that comes with this job. You know you think you know … and I was ready.
Like, I knew my team was gonna be a certain way, and by gosh, the league was gonna pay that I had to wait this long. I was gonna hire great people, which I did. And we were gonna do it, and we were gonna play with a certain style, and we did, and we do.
But all the things, man, you gotta learn. You can’t buy that experience. That’s why you see some of these coaches are better the second time around at other places.
Now, I’m fortunate. I’ve been here, this is my sixth season. … Jim Caldwell’s gonna get a second opportunity, watch, I betcha he’ll learn from that. … Pete Carroll … guys are different. But the first time you go in, it’s all new.
Q: What is the happiest you ever saw your dad?
A: Obviously things that jump out at you, when he was given that opportunity to be a head coach, he gets the job with the Eagles [in 1986], knowing he’s got this sitting there for him.
[And the 1985 Bears, for whom he was defensive coordinator] have that dominant performance in the Super Bowl [XX], from a professional standpoint, and he’s carried off, that’s probably as happy as I’ve seen him on the football field. But other times … he’s happy with little things. He sees you hit a home run, he’s happy about it. He sees his kids do something, that makes him really happy.
And I get it now, where before I really wouldn’t understand it because, for me, as a father, my sons — Seth’s gonna go into coaching. And I’m just the opposite of my dad that way, I’m encouraging him. Heck yeah, if that’s what you want, do it. My kids are different — one of ’em
[Payton] is more academic and all that. Hey look, whatever field it is, I don’t care what you do, just be happy. I don’t care. I don’t care how much you make, how much you don’t make. Just be happy.
Q: What would you want your sons to say about you?
A: That I was always there when they needed me. They can always count on me for being there.
Q: It seemed like people either loved your dad or hated him. Why was that?
A: I have no idea. If you’re going against my dad, you probably never liked him. If he was on your team, I would assume that you love him.
Q: A quote from Bill Parcells when he coached the Patriots:
“Buddy Ryan is a Neanderthal and he attracts Neanderthal players.”
I think he meant it as a compliment.
A: I think so.
Q: Do you agree with that?
A: Yeah, I would. Because you want to be physical for him. I think there’s no question about that. That’s what he’d ask of you. That he thinks that you win with physical play.
Q: A Gerry Philbin quote:
“I’ve never seen anyone better at bringing the animal out of you.”
That doesn’t surprise you, does it?
A: No, I think that’s great. What a great compliment that is to a coach, especially a football coach. This game’s a physical game, and for him to get that out of ’em, was great.
I think it’s interesting, without Gerry Philbin [a defensive tackle for the Jets during Buddy’s time with the team], my dad’s never coaching with the Jets. Gerry Philbin’s the one who recommended him to Weeb [Ewbank, head coach].
Q: A quote from your dad:
“Five minutes in a room with a player, that’s all I need to know if he can play for me. I can see it in their eyes.”
Are you that way?
A: I think I am a little bit, but … I’ve been wrong before. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I sense if a guy really fits us.
Q: How would you say your coaching style differs from your dad’s?
A: I was fortunate to be under my dad. And there’s a ton of things that I learned from my dad what to do. There’s probably a few things I learned what not to do (chuckle).
But, I know for me, I have to be myself, and part of me is the environment that I was brought up in. And so obviously, a ton of what I do is gonna be what I saw through my dad.
Q: What was it like coaching in Arizona with him?
A: Oh, the greatest thing ever. There’s no way I’d be sitting here today if I didn’t get that opportunity. I learned so much football from my dad. And, without question, the greatest influence I ever had, and I’ve been around good coaches since that time, but nobody like him, not even close. The way he attacked protections, the way he studied the game — everything.
Q: How proud of he is of the ’85 Bears?
A: No question he’s proud of that team.
Q: Does he still talk about them a lot?
A: Yeah, he does. I was with that 2000 Raven team. Arguably, statistically, that was probably the best defense in the history of the National Football League — fewest points allowed, fewest rushing yards, all that type of stuff. And I know that wasn’t as good a defense as the ’85 Bears. Because the ’85 Bears, you were beat before you ever played the game. You were thinking about survival. Where in 2000, people thought they had a chance against us, and then they realized they had no chance.
Q: What should his legacy be?
A: Probably recognized as one of the greatest defensive coaches in the history of the game.
It might not say he’s one of the greatest head coaches because he never won the Super Bowl and all that, and I get it. But he was a great coach, period. But probably one of the greatest defensive coaches that’s ever coached. And just a guy that was … he was true to himself. You didn’t want to play against him. And I think that’s something that’s huge, man. And the thing is, I try to get guys — and John and I, Idzik and I talk about this all the time — I want the guy that you don’t want your kid playing against. That’s the guy I want.
Q: Are you more like him, or is Rob?
A: I don’t know. I think we’re who we are, but we’re individuals.
But I think we both take a huge part of our dad with us, there’s no question about that.
I love the fact that if there’s some comparisons and things like that, I think that’s great, ’cause I admire my dad more than anybody.
But again, I know I’m not near as tough as my dad. Had I grown up the same way he did, maybe I would be.
Q: The way he grew up was how?
A: You’re in Frederick, Okla., they had no money, they had nothing. He’s fighting in a war, and he’s a Master Sergeant in a war at 18! If I grew up that way, I promise ya I’d be different right now.
Q: How often do you speak with him now?
A: All the time. But the bad thing is he can’t hear. So it’s like, he’ll get on, and he’s so frustrated with you, he gets pissed off, and everything else (laugh). But he just doesn’t hear well, so that’s the worst part. His mind’s sharp still, but he just can’t hear.
Q: What does Father’s Day mean to you?
A: Obviously I’ll be calling my dad, and things like that. But I think Father’s Day’s almost every day anyway, you know what I mean? I know it’s a special day, and these days aren’t gonna — how many more you’re gonna have, I’m not sure. But … just … be thankful for the fact that you got another one.
-excerpted from the Steve Serby, New York Daily news interview.
Like Father, Like Son. Buddy Ryan was previously quoted in an as saying:
” [Rex] has been preparing all his life for this job,” Buddy Ryan said of Rex. “There’s no problem there. He did his A-B-C’s in coaching. Everything he could do. Everything wasn’t just handed to him, and he made the best of it. He’s done a great job and showed people what he can do. I love what he’s done with his team.”
As New York Jets Fans, we hope the Ryan family can once again help the team win a super bowl. It would certainly be a great story, add to the JETS history.