At the time he was hired by the New Orleans Saints, Rob Ryan was the right guy for the job at just the right time. The Saints were reeling following a bitter 2012 season that featured a defense that was not only the worst in franchise history, but the worst in league history. Defensive personnel had quickly soured on then defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who ran into a litany of problems with the Saints.
Spags' personality ran in stark contrast with that of his predecessor Gregg Williams, which was good for PR amidst controversy, but bad for a defensive roster that found early success under Williams' hyper-aggressive and abrasive style. Spags lost the team and things quickly turned from embarrassing to downright shameful. Some reports even had talk of mutiny in the locker room by season's end. After one horrific season, another change was already necessary. The Saints needed to find their identity again. Enter Rob Ryan.
Immediately, Ryan reinvigorated the defense's camaraderie and attitude that was lacking under Spags. Where players bristled the season before, they thrived under Ryan. It was a perfect fit, as they had the bravado they had under Williams, but without the excessive blitzing and "kill the head" rhetoric. The Saints seemed to strike the perfect balance needed at defensive coordinator with Ryan. He was good for the Saints and they were good for him.
Arguably, no personality in Saints history has had such a meteoric rise, burned as bright, and came crashing down so spectacularly as Rob Ryan. In year one, Rob Ryan was the unquestioned King of New Orleans. He had a fun personality and he had fun at his own expense. He had a comical physique paired with a head of hair that was as beloved as he was himself. When any of us think of 2013 Rob Ryan, good Rob Ryan, peak Rob Ryan this is what we think of:
This Rob Ryan was the fun-lovin', beer-drinkin', hair-flowin' godsend the Saints and New Orleans needed after an abysmal 2012 season. He brought confidence back, he brought fun back, you could hardly look at the man without cracking a smirk at least. He was a favorite as Ms. Mae's, and Argus' Grand Marshall in 2014. He took the worst defense the NFL had seen and made them a force. Simply put, post-2013, everything was coming up Ryan. It seemed like there would be no going back, and 2014 had the potential to be a Super Bowl season.
Rob Ryan's 2013 success was a mirage though, an anomaly, and that became abundantly clear as early as Week 1 of the 2014 season. To this very day, his success, the Saints defensive success of 2013 remains a mystery. How did a defense so abhorrent become so viable, so solid for that one year? It honestly makes no sense, dead-last in the history of the NFL to fourth, with the majority of the defensive roster carried over. His track record gave no indication that was even a possibility. The idea of being ranked 24th would've been a dream, but 4th was beyond foolish or even logical at that point. But for one year he pulled it off, one year that provided a false hope that will reverberate within the franchise into at least next season.
The Saints, like the fanbase, had to have overestimated the defense and its coordinator in the wake of the stunning 2013 turnaround. Deals were signed and picks were made that were all predicated on the notion that Ryan would continue to keep this defense as a top-fifteen unit. Deals like the Galette albatross contract as well as the Byrd mega-contract. Picks like Jean-Baptiste and Fortt, where the Saints thought they had the luxury to develop talent when immediate talent would prove to be necessary. Also, the wasting of time and roster spots on Ryan's former Dallas guys in Butler, Coleman, and Spencer, none of which played a single down for the Saints. So much was wasted and lost due to a single season's success, a success that was never even close to duplicated.
The Saints defense has regrettably come full circle, and unlike the desired 180º, the Saints defense has completed a 360º that has put them right back where they started before Rob Ryan ever stepped foot in New Orleans. It's as if the Saints bet their last dollar on a longshot to win in 2013, and hit the jackpot. They then bet it all back on the same play and lost it all, walking out of the casino with the same "lucky" dollar.
Rob Ryan's days an NFL defensive coordinator may be done for a very long time, but he'll likely end up on his twin brother's staff in Buffalo, as a linebackers coach or a "special defensive assistant" or some arbitrary title like that. I'm sure the bars and food in Buffalo are pretty solid, but Rob had a good thing going early on in New Orleans. So much for that.
Instead of the image of the flowing hair of a conquering winner, we'll likely remember this image of Rob Ryan, as it incapsulates the feeling he left us all with: