It's always a sad day when you have to report on a coach or player losing his job. It's especially hard when you have respect and admiration for the person involved. But that's life in the National Football League. Coaches know that they are hired to eventually be fired one day. Lifers like Tom Landry, Chuck Noll & Bill Belichick are becoming rarer and rarer. Scratch that. Even Belichick, one of the greatest to ever coach the game, was fired by the Cleveland Browns. Ironic because Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan once held that position for the Browns, and was also a linebacker coach under Big Bill in New England
Despite the constant throng of rumors, and even documented reports, that Ryan was about to be fired, it lingered like a dark cloud over the Saints facility all day long. Head coach Sean Payton, at his regular Monday morning press conference, announced that Ryan had not been let go by the Saints. Well, that's a first.
I'm not sure who was more shocked by Payton's comments, the media or the legions of faithful fans in the Who Dat Nation. But if you listened closely, and observed the coach's uneasy body language, it was not hard to tell that Payton did not feel comfortable with the words coming out of his mouth. Anyone remember Nick Saban's now famous "I guess I'll have to say it. I'm not going to be the next Alabama coach" utterings about a decade ago? Yeah, it felt kind of like that.
After all, the setting seemed perfect. The once hopeful Saints had been on a roll in October, winning 4 out of 5 games, as well as putting themselves in playoff contention for the first time this season. Then came two embarrassing losses to two teams with young quarterbacks trying to figure out this thing called the NFL. But as what has become a common theme this year when teams play the Saints, Tennessee's Marcus Mariota & Washington's Kirk Cousins both looked like they belong in the Hall of Fame. And oh yeah, the week before that, New York Giants Eli Manning threw 6 touchdown passes in a 52-49 loss to the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which also happens to be a new NFL record for a losing quarterback,
Yes, it's been pretty ugly lately around the Big Easy. Giving up 14 TD passes in just the past 3 weeks has been a major cause for concern. And with the bye week looming, it became natural to center on speculation about whose head might be on the chopping block And although everyone knew that Ryan's head would probably be the first one considered, the Saints don't have a history of making rash in-season firings. But this was different...historically different. When you score 52 points & your quarterback ties an NFL record with SEVEN TOUCHDOWN PASSES, and it still takes a time-expiring 50-yard field goal to win the game, something is wrong....terribly wrong.
After Payton met all day with general manager Mickey Loomis and the rest of the Saints decision makers, the team finally announced tonight that Ryan was indeed officially fired. Dennis Allen, who was brought back to New Orleans this summer as a special "defensive consultant", was named as the new defensive coordinator. Allen has a long history with the Saints serving as a secondary coach during the early (& most successful) part of Payton's tenure in NOLA.
As many coaches do, Allen parlayed that Super Bowl-winning success to a better job, becoming the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos. After just one season in the Rocky Mountains, Allen became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders before his 40th birthday. But despite Allen's lowly .222 winning percentage in the Bay Area, Payton jumped at the opportunity to rehire his good friend & confidante when he once again became available on the job market.
After Rob Ryan became the toast of the town in his first year in the Big Easy, he quickly went from the penthouse to outhouse in 2014 when his 4th ranked defense dropped all the way down to 2nd worst in the NFL. So when Allen showed up on campus during OTAs and mini-camp this summer, it became obvious to everyone that this highly unusual, and possibly combustible mix of two men who both seemed to have the clout to make decisions. Basically, Rob Ryan was, in the words of the classic 'Animal House' movie Dean Wormer, on double-secret probation.
It's a sad day in New Orleans, but it was also a decision that had to be made. Ryan, who famously said he would "be out of work for like 5 minutes" when fired by the Dallas Cowboys, is an NFL lifer. His father Buddy, perhaps the most famous coordinator in NFL history, was the architect of the dominant Chicago Bears '46' defense in 1985, considered by many as the best ever. His loquacious brother Rex, also known for defense, is the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, after spending several years with the Jets.
Rob, who as we earlier mentioned, served as coordinator for both the Browns & Cowboys, also sandwiched those two gigs with the same job in Oakland. The formula, however, has been nearly identical in all four of his stops. Ryan's exotic defenses start fast with a lot of flashy success, but they all seemed to hit the inevitable wall, and the exits were generally not pretty. Here is the complete video story of today's drama that played out at the Saints facility. But perhaps more importantly, this is one reporter who hopes Ryan gets another opportunity soon, but unfortunately his time might be running out.