METAIRIE, LA. — From watching him on television, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan looks like a wild man.
So, Saints defensive end Tom Johnson was asked what Ryan is really like in a day-to-day work situation.
“Probably the same perspective,” Johnson said.
Then he expands the thought: “He’s got a lot of enthusiasm, and your team feeds off of it. He’s one of those guys that if there’s a mistake made that’s OK. We’re going to go back there and we’re going to keep on mashing them in the mouth, and we’re going to keep on moving forward. He makes the game exciting, and I think all the guys rally around him.”
Asked about his first season in New Orleans, Ryan makes clear that the appreciation is mutual.
“There’s nothing like being in an opportunity to just be a part of something successful,” he said this week from the Saints’ training facility. “Everybody in this building is there for one reason, and that’s for the Saints to win. There’s no hidden agendas; there’s no politics anywhere. ... I have a smile on my face every day because I’ve been in other roads and they weren’t quite as much fun to get to work to, I can promise you.”
Ryan has been around enough to know. This is his 27th year coaching, and 16th in the NFL.
His reputation as one of the league’s most colorful coaches is symbolized by his long, shaggy hairstyle. But it goes beyond that. There’s also a matter of pedigree: He is the son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan and twin brother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan — guys known for sometimes turning NFL sidelines into their own personal circus rings. All three Ryans also seem to lack the internal censor that makes so many coaches such dull interviews. Ask these guys a question and be prepared for an answer.
All also have had notable successes — and that certainly includes Rob Ryan’s first season in New Orleans.
In 2012, under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Saints finished last in the league in total defense (440.1 yards per game) and second-to-last in scoring defense (28.4 ppg). This season under Ryan and his 3-4 alignment, New Orleans finished the regular season fourth in total defense (305.7 ypg) and points allowed (19 ppg).
“(His impact) has been significant for us as a team, starting back in the spring and trying to create an atmosphere and rebound to some degree from last season,” head coach Sean Payton said. “... I think more than anything, his passion for teaching (is) a big part of why we’re here right now.”
“Here” is the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, where the Saints will meet the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
The game is a rematch of a Dec. 2 meeting when Seattle won, 34-7. That score represents not only the fewest points the Saints scored this season, but also the most they allowed.
“That’s really the only game that I just don’t think we were ourselves at all,” Ryan said. “Whatever it was, we made mental mistakes; we made some fundamental mistakes, technique things. And we pride ourselves on playing the game the right way, so I don’t think we really did that.”
Ryan said adjustments will be made. And Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has said he has no real idea what Ryan might come up with.
Whatever it is, Saints defenders sound eager to follow.
“Rob’s been great,” said linebacker Will Herring, who played with Seattle from 2007-10. “Just the presence he’s brought to the defensive side of the ball, bringing the defense together. ... Really and truly, when you’ve got 27 guys — however many we’ve got on defense — playing together like we have, that’s where the improvement comes. I think it’s more than just the X’s and O’s.”