I've got to admit that I wasn't ecstatic when I heard the news that Rob Ryan was the leading candidate for the New Orleans Saints vacant Defensive Coordinator position yesterday.
I'm by no means completely against the guy, but at first blush I felt that he would be a lazy choice. Another big name that would be more style than substance, and maybe that's all he is.
I have given the potential hire a lot of though the last few days though, and I read something that was simply stated that made me start to think outside the surface on this potential hire.
On Twitter yesterday, LB Scott Shanle sent out the following comment:
whoever Saints hire need to bring back attitude & swag we had in 2009-11& no it wasn't because of $50 pool we had. Save da bounty comments
Now, bounty wisecracks aside, the first part of his comment really resonated with me. A senior member of the Saints defense points out an obvious fact, the 2012 Saints defense lost the attitude and swagger they carried under Gregg Williams' tenure. Shanle's comment told me that the defense had lost it's confidence under Steve Spagnuolo.
Once again this is clearly obvious when watching the Saints defense on the field but think about it, the Saints defense under Williams knew exactly who they were, for better or worse, and in one season they completely lost their way.
The defensive roster, as it currently stands, is mostly made up of players that were coached by Williams. They bought into the self confidence and bravado instilled in them by him. These same players chaffed under Spags and some called for his head before he was fired by Sean Payton.
Clearly Williams was not the answer to long term success, bounty program or not. He became far too reckless and went unchecked for too long, but his personality built confidence into a moderately talented defensive roster.
Sean Payton had a season to watch his defense lose more and more confidence with each passing week. He clearly couldn't accept the statistic downfall of his defense, but more importantly, I think he couldn't accept his defense losing it's identity and self confidence. Those were the most important things Gregg Williams brought to the Saints.
The faulty scheme, juvenile antics, and bounty program were the ugly byproducts of the Williams culture in New Orleans. The one thing he did though was get these men to believe in themselves from the very first practice he held with them.
Payton needs these men to regain their confidence, their attitude, their swagger. I think he heard his players, players like Shanle, who need what Williams brought to them, but without the bull that nearly ruined them.
That's where Rob Ryan comes in. A coach with attitude and swagger who may be the best coach suited to reinvigorate the Saints defense with those sorely missed traits. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis will be damned before they make the same mistake twice though.
Ryan will be thoroughly vetted before and during his interview on Friday. They need to know without question that they can reel in the personality and rhetoric before any signs of it getting out of hand.
Payton may not only need Rob Ryan to re-establish the defense but he may need Ryan to help complete his vision for the Saints as a team. Sean Payton needs a defense as aggressive as his offense to reach optimum output. When the Saints were aggressive and disciplined on both sides of the ball they won a Super Bowl. Payton plans to go all in, as he usually does, to achieve success in the coming seasons.
Rob Ryan has been seen as a blowhard and a loudmouth by many football fans, but to be fair, there's no evidence saying he is a sociopath like Gregg Williams. Gregg got away with far too much during his time with the Saints and it cost everyone involved. Rob Ryan, or anyone for that matter, who intends to work for the Saints will have a very short leash in exchange for working opposite the NFL's premier offense.
That leads me to another angle on Ryan. We may look at his former teams and their statistics and feel quite underwhelmed but let's look at what types of offensive leadership his defenses had to make up for.
Oakland 2004-2008 QB's: Kerry Collins ('04-'05), Aaron Brooks ('06), and JaMarcus Russell ('07-'08) Head Coaches: Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, and Tom Cable
Cleveland 2009-2010 QB's: Derek Anderson ('09), Jake Delhomme and Colt McCoy ('10) Head Coach: Eric Mangini
Dallas 2011-2012 QB: Tony Romo Head Coach: Jason Garrett
You could combine all of these quarterbacks into a Voltron-style mega QB and still they couldn't come within 100 yards of Drew Brees' talent, heart, and leadership. When Tony Romo is the absolute best quarterback you've ever had opposite your defense it's not saying a lot. So clearly Ryan hasn't had a lot of backup over the years and his defenses have had to do a serious amount of compensation and load carrying.
Rob Ryan paired opposite Sean Payton and Drew Brees on offense could potentially be an intimidating combination for the rest of the NFL to prepare for. Although Ryan is a long-time 3-4 disciple (which is ideal) the 4-3 is not foreign to him from his Raider days.
Due to salary cap issues and a thin draft, especially considering no second round pick, the Saints will have to craft a functioning 3-4 defense out of mostly 4-3 personnel. This could make him an ideal choice to lead the Saints from a 4-3 to 3-4 scheme, as a smooth transition will be paramount to immediate success.
The Saints defense needs to regain their identity, their attitude, and their swagger. Rob Ryan may be the unlikeliest candidate who makes the most sense. With an influx of discipline and wisdom hard earned from last season's punishments, the Saints may be ready to learn from the past to benefit the future.