WEATHERFORD — Rex and Rob Ryan learned the family business on the plains of Western Oklahoma.
They learned it at Southwestern Oklahoma State, where they played as undersized defensive ends. They learned it from Bob Mazie and Cecil Perkins and many other coaches who crossed their paths.
But they also learned it from their father in a hotel room a few blocks from campus.
“This was the place we got all our knowledge,” Rob said.
The Ryan brothers are well known for their candor, their bluntness and occasionally their hyperbole. But on the night they were inducted into their alma mater's Athletics Hall of Fame, there was no way they could've overstated the importance of their years in Weatherford.
No way Rex would've become the head coach of the New York Jets.
No way Rob would've become the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.
To think, the brothers came to Southwestern out of necessity. Rex was 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Rob was 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, and neither was recruited.
“It was Southwestern or nowhere,” Rob said.
They came to Weatherford because their father wanted them to be there. Buddy Ryan, the legendary coach, knew Southwestern's coaches through some of his buddies in the business, and he knew Mazie and his assistants could teach the game to his boys.
Rex and Rob learned about football.
And so much more.
Perkins, the former longtime athletic director, became a mentor to both. He taught them lessons that went beyond Xs and Os.
“You know what? It's OK to be yourself,” he told them. “There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, you have to be yourself.”
Needless to say, that lesson stuck.
Rex has been known to wear wigs to press conferences, to say outlandish things to take the pressure off his players, to make proclamations about how good his team was because he truly believed that they were just that good.
Rob is every bit as outspoken but doesn't have as big a microphone as his brother. Put him in New York or make him a head coach, and here's guessing Rob would make the highlights just as much as Rex.
But really, they're just being themselves, just being honest about who they are and what they believe.
And while the folks at the NFL offices prepare to hand out a fine any time they start talking, there's something refreshing about a couple of guys who take their jobs very seriously but don't take themselves seriously at all.
Handed a copy of the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to sign before the induction ceremony Saturday night, Rex chuckled.
“That's Mark Sanchez's girlfriend,” he said of his quarterback who's rumored to be dating cover girl Kate Upton. “She looks terrible.”
Kidding, of course.
“Our quarterback might not be the best, but his girlfriend's definitely the prettiest.”
Needless to say, Rex and Rob learned to be themselves, but make no mistake, they learned football, too.
That was obvious the weekend they graduated from Southwestern. Their father came to town, and even though he'd been hesitant about them going into coaching, he'd finally decided that they couldn't be persuaded otherwise.
So, he rented a room at the Mark Motor Hotel, one of those drive-up-to-the-door-of-your-room places a few blocks from Interstate 40. He bought an easel and gave the boys a two-day crash course on his scheme, the vaunted 46 defense.
“I always say that he taught me the defense in one day, taught Rob the defense in two days,” Rex joked.
But seriously ...
“When Dad broke out the pencil and paper at the hotel, I think he thought he was in for a long night,” Rob said.
Buddy illustrated one concept after another on the easel. He sketched schemes. He drew blitzes. He schooled them on every last nuance of his defense.
They kept at it for hours, Buddy quizzing and Rex and Rob absorbing everything, but even as the father asked tougher questions, the sons had the answers.
“Up before then, it was just us observing things on the sidelines, growing up around those Bears teams and asking questions,” Rob said. “But I think he was shocked at the level for which we knew football.”
Credit their days at Southwestern.
“There were some great men that really taught us the game,” Rob said.
Pair that with their father's tutoring — it'd be like Isaac Newton teaching the laws of motion — and Weatherford was the launchpad for their coaching careers.
That's why they came back Saturday night. Why they spent a solid half-hour joking and laughing and telling stories about their days at Southwestern. Why they looked like they could've stayed and done the same for another hour or two.
They know the place that this place on the plains of Western Oklahoma is where their careers began.
“I think we're a little better now than we were then,” Rex said. “As some of the New York people would say, that's maybe debatable.”
He chuckled, then got serious.
“But realistically, this was a great start.”
No hyperbole there.