The football world is in mourning this week after Buddy Ryan, famously combative defensive innovator who helped propel the Jets and the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl championships, died on Tuesday at his home in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He was 85 years-old.
According to ESPN, the always-outspoken Ryan coached in the NFL for 26 seasons and was known for building some of football’s top defenses with a relentlessness that focused on creating havoc on the field.
“He was many things to many people — outstanding coach, mentor, fierce competitor, father figure, faithful friend and the list goes on,” his son, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, said Tuesday in a statement. “But to me and my brothers Rob and Jim, he was so much more. He was everything you want in a dad — tough when he had to be, compassionate when you didn’t necessarily expect it, and a loving teacher and confidant who cherished his family. He truly was our hero.”
James Solano, Buddy Ryan’s agent, confirmed his death but did not give a cause. However, he did say Ryan had been treated for cancer in recent years.
Ryan was a Korean War veteran who went to Oklahoma State and got his first job coaching for the pros in New York in 1968. He first became a defensive coordinator in 1976 for the Minnesota Vikings, where he spent two years before moving on to the Chicago Bears. It was there that he came up with the 46 defense that overwhelmed the league with its aggressiveness and unpredictability.
“Some say the 46 is just an eight-man front,” said Buddy Ryan, who named the strategy after safety Doug Plank, who wore that number. “That’s like saying Marilyn Monroe is just a girl.”
The Bears were quick to honor Ryan after his death.
“Buddy Ryan was the architect of the greatest defense our league has seen,” Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said in a statement. “He was brilliant when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game, but what made him special was his ability to create an unwavering confidence in the players he coached. From the day he was hired in 1978, his defenses bought into more than the scheme, they bought into him and took on his personality.
“Buddy was brash, intelligent and tough. He was a perfect match for our city and team. … He is one of the team’s all-time greats. Our prayers are with his family.”
Rest in peace, Buddy Ryan!