Some things never change.
The last time that media members covering the Browns ran into Buddy Ryan was in suburban Phoenix in late August 1995.
Bill Belichick's club scrimmaged against Ryan's Arizona Cardinals for several days and then beat them 31-17 in the preseason finale for both teams.
Every day after practice, Ryan, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat to protect his balding spot from the scorching 107-degree heat, stood on a small wooden box and spun yarns in his native Oklahoma drawl to make reporters laugh.
Ryan was fired after the season – just his second with the team – following a disastrous 4-12 finish and then retired to his Kentucky farm, where he breeds horses.
The Browns were also fired – more or less – after the season, their 50th in Cleveland, following an equally disastrous 5-11 finish, sauntering off to Baltimore in relocation.
Now, 14 years later, Ryan watched the Browns again on Sunday in training camp. He flew in from Louisville, Ky. in the morning to begin a five-day stay in Cleveland, where his son, Rob, the defensive backs coach for him in Arizona in 1994 and ‘95, is in his first season as defensive coordinator. Earlier this year, Ryan went to New York and spent time with Rob's twin brother, Rex, in his first season as head coach of the Jets.
Though a little older – he's 75 now – and a little slower, Ryan still has that wit.
It came out when Ryan, dressed in Browns gear, including a baseball cap, started talking about the 46 defense he made famous during the last 16 seasons of his=2 0coaching career, especially in 1985 when the Chicago Bears bullied their way to the Super Bowl championship. Despite the fact he was just the defensive coordinator, he was carried off the field on the shoulders of the players, along with Bears head coach Mike Ditka, following a 46-10 pounding of the New England Patriots.
Out of necessity, Ryan came up with the 46 when he arrived in Chicago in 1978 as defensive coordinator under Neill Armstrong, the head coach, not the moon-walking astronaut from Wapakoneta, Ohio.
"When I got there, we couldn't stop the run and we couldn't rush the passer," Ryan said.
When he first instituted the 46, in which there were eight men either directly on the line of scrimmage or nearly on it, opponents and critics scoffed.
"They said it was just another eight-man front," Ryan said. "That's like saying Marilyn Monroe was just another girl."
Everybody chuckled then and now, but Ryan was right. He parlayed the success the Bears had with the 46 to two head coaching jobs, first with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1986-90 and then with the Cardinals. He was 55-55-1 overall in the two stints. In addition to the Super Bowl with the Bears, he was also part of a winning Super Bowl team with the Jets following 1969 season when they stunned the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts 16-7 in a game that legitimized the AFL.
"Because he guaranteed a win beforehand, Joe Namath got a lot of the credit for what the Jets did that day," said former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, who was defensive backs coach with the Jets in 1974 and '75 when Ryan was linebackers coach. "But it was what the Jets defense did that day that really won the game. Walt Michaels, the former Browns linebacker, got a lot of credit for that because he was the defensive coordinator. But I can tell you that Buddy Ryan (who was linebackers coach) had a lot to do with that, too. He was a brilliant guy and an innovator even then."
Rutigliano said the 46 focused on rushing the passer.
"The corners were left alone in bump-and-run coverage, which was dangerous, but Buddy felt he'd get to the quarterback before the quarterback could get the ball off. And most times, Buddy was right," said Rutigliano, who also visited camp on Sunday as part of his job as a TV analyst covering the Browns for WKYC (Channel 3).
Even with his success in the business, Ryan attempted to dissuade his sons from following in his footsteps.
"They wanted to go coach, but I tried to talk them out of it," he said. "They wanted them to go into food service management at the airport."
But Ryan admits know that Rob and Rex made the right choice.
"They went a lot farther and did more in coaching than they ever could have in food service management," he laughed. "The boys have always done well wherever they've been."
And, like their dad, they've not minced words much.
"Buddy Ryan was a great coach," Rutigliano said. "He also didn't give a crap about what the media thought or anybody else thought. He said exactly what he thought.
"He was tremendous with the quips. I think he was frustrated all those years when he was an assistant and didn't get to use the quips much. So he took full advantage of the opportunity to use them when he became a head coach."
In August 1995 when he was guiding the Arizona Cardinals against the Browns.
And then again in retirement in August 2009 when he was watching son Rob coach the Browns defense.