METAIRIE, La. – From his long, gray hair flaring out of the back of his hat to his periodic brash statements, Rob Ryan presents himself as a renegade who does things his own way and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
Yet those who’ve been around the Saints’ new defensive coordinator for a while don’t necessarily see him that way.
As Ryan aims to turn around a unit that allowed an NFL-record 7,042 yards last season, he has sought regular input from his charges. His players list his willingness to listen to their ideas among his top attributes, and say they appreciate being consulted.
“He’s always worried about: How do we feel about this? How do we like this look? And if we don’t like something, say something,” safety Roman Harper said after Thursday’s practice. “He understands that we play the game and if we’re not comfortable, then it’s not going to work.”
Even his hairstyle isn’t entirely of his own making.
“Who are we kidding? The wife likes it long,” he said.
Ryan learned defense and much of what he knows about football from his father, Buddy Ryan, who won Super Bowls as a defensive coach with the New York Jets and Chicago Bears, and who was head coach of three playoff teams in Philadelphia, all of them known for strong defenses.
Ryan spent the past two seasons in Dallas, where his defenses ranked in the middle of the league in yards allowed – 14th in 2011 and 18th in 2012. He was fired after last season, but was not out of work long.
Saints head coach Sean Payton, looking to change his team’s scheme from a 4-3 (four linemen, three linebackers) to a 3-4, hired Ryan in early February.
“The better teacher you are, the more input you can handle,” Ryan said. “I don’t have a damn dictatorship in my room. I think open forum is good when everybody knows what they’re talking about. I’ve always done that. It doesn’t make it right, but it is who I am. I just want it to look right on Sundays.”