Illustration by Caroline Willis

Rob Ryan

00:00 July 28, 2014
By: David Vicari
[Illustration by Caroline Willis]

If you had to build a most interesting man of the NFL, how would you build him? Would he be a father of an old school player/coach? Twin brother of a celebrity coach in New York City? Would he say things like opposing QB Jay Cutler could "throw a strawberry through a battleship."Would he have coached for a crazy zealot owner in Oakland (Al Davis), a cursed city (Cleveland) and the corpse of what was America's team (Dallas)? Would he gladly partner with a coach who had been suspended for the year for his alleged role in a bounty system?

The New Orleans Saints were disjointed in 2012, and it was never more obvious than on defense, where the team struggled mightily on their way to setting records in futility. Insert Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. Last year the team jumped 28 spots on defense, from last to fourth. Their 134.4 yard per game improvement was the biggest since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. The team did this despite the fact that by the end of the year the team had lost eight major contributors due to injury. While the additions of DB Keenan Lewis and S Kenny Vaccaro were key, they don't explain this jump. This all falls back on Ryan.

The Character

Rob Ryan is a character on the field. Once when watching an Oakland Raiders game as a teenager, I remember my friend commenting on how "he looks like a Viking!" He didn't know who the coach was, but was fascinated by the long-haired goateed man who was slamming his clipboard down on the field in excitement, pushing and shoving his players.

Ryan keeps the character going wherever he is. He is a coach who most of the players enjoy being around. He was a Grand Marshall of Argus during Mardi Gras 2014. He is also a regular fixture at the dive bar Ms. Maes. New Orleans has greeted this character with open arms. Ryan responded with a round on him at the bar. And on the streets of New Orleans, this may be more known that the idiosyncrasies of the man, or the idiosyncrasies of his defense.

The Person

Ryan is the twin brother of vocal New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. Their father, Buddy Ryan, was a defensive coordinator and head coach decades earlier. While many talk of the first football family being the Manning's, the Ryan's are a football family in their own right, all coaches, much like the Van Gundy's in basketball.

But Rob Ryan the person is much more private. He doesn't like discussing any celebrity he has when buying a round at Ms. Maes. He is a private and quiet man when not on the field. Unlike the man you see patrolling the sidelines like a lost character from a Nordic myth, Ryan's demeanor completely changes the second the headset is off. He embodies the spirit of the athlete whose persona morphs into something completely different when the pads are on.

The Coach

But Rob Ryan came here to do a job. If there was a coach that schematically fit Sean Payton on the other side of the ball, it's Ryan. Ryan finds ways to get the best 11 guys on the field, position be damned. He likes lots of movement before the snap, to confuse the offense and have them second guess themselves, much like Payton does on offense. As Ryan said, "We're going to put our best players out there. That's what Sean (Payton) hired me to do and I think I'm pretty good at identifying that and playing to our players' strengths. That's what we'll do, and we're going to be damn good at it."

It's amazing watching the Saints play defense. All the players are moving formations that you wouldn't try in a video game are out there on the field. And it works. The team spent so much time in a 4-2-5, 3-3-5, 3-2-6, 2-3-6, and 2-4-5, that it's hard to call them a 3-4 team. The addition of Byrd solidifies the idea of the team going to three safeties. And the whole team brews a confidence that stems from Ryan. "The biggest thing is always - and we do this as a team, through Sean (Payton) and everybody - we want to get our best players and our (best) combination of players on the field."

Ryan has blended in perfectly with the New Orleans Saints organization. While some characters in the NFL don't know how to rein it in, the big personality that is Ryan stays in the press room, the confident and defiant coach stays on the sidelines. When coaching the players, and scheming, Ryan buys into the concept of the Saints ego-less.

Because for Ryan, everything takes a backseat to winning a Super Bowl. During a press conference after a recent minicamp, Ryan said, "Here in New Orleans, we talk about 'team.' Everything is 'team,' ever since I've been here it's 'team.' It's awesome to be a part of that. Everybody's here for a reason. I think Sean (Payton) and Mickey (Loomis) have picked everybody here for a reason. Our goals are team goals, and we just want to win as many as we can and win it all. If that happens to take the number one defense, then so be it. That'd be fine."

You'll be hard-pressed to find a defensive coordinator who better fits their adopted city. Being an old-football guy who takes pride and is confident, yet defers to the Saints, is about as New Orleans as it gets. Payton and Ryan also met in Oakland, with Payton nearly being the Raiders head coach in '04, and Ryan being hired as the defensive coordinator after. These two needed to coach football away from each other, however, destined to meet later in New Orleans.

And Ryan is loved in New Orleans, having been adopted before his first season was complete. From wearing wigs that mimic the long hair that has allegedly dissuaded owners appointing him as their head coach to having him Grand Marshal Mardi Gras, Ryan is completely encumbered in this city. It only makes sense that the most unique city to have an NFL team would have a coordinator that buys them a round, trying to fix a defense with a look no one has mastered yet. Play-by-Play for a Rob Ryan Mane - by Jhesika Menes

This Obi Wan Kenobi of Saints Football is more known for his Buddha-licious figure and magical pony-like tresses than his ability to keep a cool head in the thick of combat, but the men's hair game changer is all but impressed by himself: "The best approach is to use as little effort as possible." While it's hard to believe this golden boy of flowing manageability is not the poster child for a particular hair care brand or Brazilian volumizing technique, I do understand that he is not and would never, in the parlance of our times, keep up with the Kardashians.

His defensive playbook is rumored to be bound on unicorn skin, his pen a Nasa developed play encoder. Ok, so he may not be washing his locks with baby panda tears and rare Afghani flowers that only bloom once a year in perfect weather conditions, but what is his secret? Confidence. You can't bottle it and sell it at Walgreens, either. You gotta dig deep into the guts of your being, kick the sissy woo woo out and replace it with a human guillotine of spell-casting diabolical dexterity that eats the souls of girl scouts for dinner. That and a deep conditioning treatment once a month.

Ryan's hair is such a thing of wonder that it has even spawned it's own Facebook following. Local Tina Gasspard began posting memes to her page Rob Ryan's Hair ( at the beginning of last season, and has developed an avid following — including Ryan himself. Where Y'at caught up with her to uncover her inspiration.

WYAT: You describe Ryan's hair as "a thing of wonder and mystery." What do you think makes it so?

TG: Quarterback tears? Extract of unicorn? Ours is not to know, but to behold.

WYAT: If there was a song that captured the majesty of Rob Ryan's hair, what would it be?

TG: "Hair" would be too obvious. How about "Too Legit to Quit" or, no, "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by the Scorpions! The intro would be perfect for the moment when Rob and his Hair enter the stadium.

WYAT: If given the opportunity, how would you style Ryan's hair?

TG:Why mess with perfection? But, if I must choose, I think I'd give him a nice "Cowardly Lion" 'do...just for fun.

WYAT: What do you think Rob Ryan would have to say about the page?

TG: Well, a reporter asked him about it at a press conference once and he said the page was "pretty funny, no question." He also said that his son sends him my memes from time to time because Rob isn't on social media himself. It was pretty much the highlight of my year...and quite a relief. I would never want him to think the page is anything other than an homage. I think he and his hair are awesome!

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