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Rob Ryan hire appears to be mixed bag for Saints

There are definitive good and not-so-good points to be made when analyzing the decision by New Orleans to hire Rob Ryan.There are definitive good and not-so-good points to be made when analyzing the decision by New Orleans to hire Rob Ryan.

Rob Ryan certainly has the experience. There is no questioning his qualifications.

The new defensive coordinator of the Saints brings an enormous amount of experience to New Orleans.

The pluses are obvious. He has the coaching pedigree as the son of a former NFL star defensive coordinator and later a head coach (Buddy Ryan) as well as the brother of an NFL head coach in Rex Ryan.

He brings 26 years of coaching experience to New Orleans, including 13 years on the college level. He has been coaching in the NFL since 2000. He is a strong teacher and advocate of the 3-4 defensive scheme that Sean Payton wants to have implemented.

Ryan garnered extremely valuable experience as linebackers coach of the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick from 2000-2003, working with Romeo Crenel for most of his stint, earning an opportunity to become defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders from 2004-2008. He went on to serve as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in 2009-2010. He most recently served as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys from 2011-2012.

The Patriots experience was obviously beneficial for Ryan. The minuses surround the success of his defenses and teams, or lack thereof, during his three tenures as defensive coordinator in the NFL. While with New England, the Patriots became a Super Bowl champion on two occasions.

With the Raiders in 2006, Oakland ranked third in yards allowed per game and eighteenth in points allowed per game. The Raiders did not make the playoffs while Ryan was there, never winning more than five games in five seasons under four different head coaches.

The Browns did not make the playoffs during Ryan's tenure in Cleveland. He left the Browns with one year remaining on a three-year contract. In 2010, the Browns defense finished 20th in points allowed per game (20.8) and 22nd in yards allowed (350.1). The Browns were 5-11 in both seasons under head coach Eric Mangini, who was dismissed, with Ryan as defensive coordinator.

In Dallas, the Cowboys did not make the playoffs in his two seasons on the job, going 8-8 in both seasons. In 2011, the Cowboys were 14th in yards allowed per game and 16th in points allowed. In 2012, Dallas ranked 19th in total defense and allowed 25 points per game, ninth highest in the league. They allowed the most yards in franchise history and they forced just 16 turnovers, ranked 29th in the league. The Cowboys were 14th in yards allowed per game and 23rd in points per game. Dallas was 16th in the league in sacks this past season though their defense was beset by injuries. He left Dallas with one year left on a three-year contract. Clearly, he was not wanted anymore, by Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett.

Of course, Ryan inherited a defense in Dallas that was ranked 31st in the league in 2010. He stated when he was dismissed in Dallas that he would be out of work for about five minutes. It turned out to be a month.

Statistics do not tell an entire story. In Dallas, Ryan had some defensive talent, led by DeMarcus Ware. That was not so much the case in Oakland and Cleveland. You need top players to get winning results and impressive statistics. Oakland was a dysfunctional franchise with four head coaches in five seasons while Ryan was there. The Browns were and have been a bottom-feeding franchise with just two winning seasons since 1999, the year the new incarnation of the franchise began as essentially an expansion franchise.

Ryan prefers an aggressive style of defense, a stark contrast to the passive style of Steve Spagnuolo. When you make a change, it must me drastic if you are in need of serious improvement which clearly defines the pathetic 2012 New Orleans Saints defense and their record-setting performance for falling short. Payton made that kind of change when he went from Gary Gibbs to Gregg Williams. He has done so again with the latest transition.

In fact, Ryan is clearly along the lines of Williams. Ryan is a dynamic, outgoing, even bombastic personality who commands attention at times, according to those who have covered him. That is not a bad thing. The Saints defense needs a strong personality and a strong, aggressive approach.

When you have weaknesses on the back end, you attempt to mask them by being aggressive on the front end. That is what Williams did in New Orleans, getting the most out of his talent, for the most part. Perhaps he blitzed one too many times, remembering the playoff game in San Francisco, his swan song with the Saints.

Clearly, the Saints need better talent on the defensive side of the football. It is much easier to coach real talent than it is to mask weaknesses. Ryan will have to do the latter while Payton, Mickey Loomis and company aggressively seek to improve the talent level, a top priority.

Some will say that Ryan is too much like Williams and could clash with Payton, as Williams did. Some feel that Ryan will bring undo scrutiny upon the Saints.

Perish that thought. The New Orleans Saints are already under intense scrutiny. They cannot slip up again with the league. Payton knows it and Ryan knows it.

Looking at it from the positive perspective, Payton burns to win again and has again handed over the keys to his defense to a boisterous, type A personality. Unlike Williams, Ryan has no previous head coaching experience. As long as he does not try to conduct himself as a head coach and work separate and apart from Payton, he should be fine. He is a very open, candid speaker. He is a bit of a character, with personality, full of bravado. If successful, he can become wildly popular in a city that embraces characters, winners and loves its NFL team.

Still, this is not the slam-dunk move that many Saints fans were hoping for, instead, more of a mixed bag. Some have questioned why the Saints did not hire a young gun, an up-and-coming defensive mind, rather than a retread, of sorts. The answer is obvious. Payton feels his team is closer to championship form than to rebuilding. A team with a chance goes with the proven experience, as opposed to the unproven potential. It is proving time for Ryan and he is eager to prove the move to be a smooth groove into the kind of success that fans would approve of. The Saints do not need a dominant defense, just a competitive one that fits comfortably into the middle of the pack in the league while creating turnovers, as Williams had initially. It can happen.

 

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