NFL Playoffs: From Oklahoma State to the New Orleans Saints, Rob Ryan continues to overhaul defenses

by Jenni Carlson Published: January 10, 2014
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Called former Oklahoma State football coach Bob Simmons the other day.

Wanted to talk about Rob Ryan.

“Crazy Rob?” Simmons asked.

He laughed long and loud, then said, “Oh, I'll talk about him. He was fantastic.”

Before the long-haired, straight-shooting Ryan was coordinating defenses and stalking sidelines in the NFL, he was running the defense at OSU. Simmons plucked him from the junior-college ranks in 1997, and even though Ryan stayed in Stillwater for only three seasons, his impact was significant.

What, you thought the Saints were the first defense that Ryan turned around?

New Orleans heads to Seattle today for an NFC divisional playoff game, and Ryan is a big reason why. A season ago, the Saints defense allowed a total of 7,042 yards, the most in NFL history.

That was 440.1 yards a game.

With largely the same personnel, the Saints are allowing only 305.7 yards a game this season.

It's a staggering change.

Ryan's scheme and attitude have done so much to revamp the Saints that NFL types are saying no coach has had a bigger impact on a team this season.

Those who were around Ryan during his OSU days aren't surprised. He's just doing now what he was doing then.

“When Rob came in, he just brought a totally different identity to Stillwater and our defense,” former Cowboy linebacker Kenyatta Wright said. “I loved it.”

Wright was a sophomore when Ryan arrived on campus. While Wright remembers the switch in system — Rob was a disciple of the ultra-aggressive, eight-man-fronted 46 scheme developed by his father and defensive mastermind Buddy — the biggest change that Ryan affected was the Cowboys' mentality.

He demanded a lot from his players. The bar was high. It was put up or shut up.

In a program known as Tailback U that had long relied on offense, Ryan made the defense accountable. They blitzed. They played man-to-man coverage.

And players responded to the demands placed on them.

In 1997, the Cowboys allowed only 19.4 points a game and went to the Alamo Bowl.

In 1998, they were second in the nation with 41 sacks.

In 1999, they ranked 10th in the nation in total defense.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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