MOBILE, Ala. — A year ago, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was unemployed, having been fired by a Dallas Cowboys squad that finished its 2012 season 8-8.
Fast forward to Monday, and Ryan was clad in a black New Orleans Saints hoodie and matching pants, standing next to his twin on the sidelines of Fairhope Municipal Stadium, southeast of Mobile. The primary objective for him and his brother — New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan — was to evaluate the participants of the 2014 Senior Bowl as they began practicing for the collegiate all-star game Saturday, scouring for any prospects they might draft or sign.
Yet few — if any — players on the field seemed to be as hot of a topic among observers as was Rob Ryan.
After taking over a New Orleans defense that finished the 2012 season as the worst in NFL history and leading it to a No. 4 ranking in 2013, Ryan was repeatedly approached by media members covering the Senior Bowl. They hoped to ask him about his thoughts on reports that his trademark mane of silver hair had repelled potential offers from teams with head-coaching vacancies. They hoped he’d talk about which players he may want to add to a young, hungry stable that, among many others, already includes Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, 24, and all-rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro.
But, like all of his Saints colleagues, the famously loquacious Ryan was under orders from General Manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton to stay off the record with journalists. And Ryan, who just went to the playoffs for the first time in his 10 seasons as an NFL coordinator, isn’t about to foul up a good thing.
“Mum’s the word until training camp,” said Ryan, whose debut trip to the postseason coincided with the sole time he’d been on the same side as a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. “Sorry, guys.”
However, no one else was under such commands. And those folks couldn’t avoid heaping praise on Rob, who has told reporters that he lets his hair grow wildly so he can donate it to the charity Locks of Love.
Sure, the praise started with Rex, even though at one point Monday he answered a phone call from Rob by telling him, “Hey, Robbo, hurry up — I’m down here doing an article about your sorry (butt).” Rex suggested his brother’s “genius” was proven when the Saints needed to place eight members of the defense on season-ending injured reserve but still pulled off a turnaround that was unprecedented since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
“Let’s face it: He took over the worst defense in the history of the National Football League and turned it into the fourth (best),” said Rex, who wore a green Jets sweatshirt and blue jeans while viewing one practice at Fairfield and another at Ladd-Peebles Stadium next to Rob. “He’s the best coach out there.”
Asked why nobody had been courting Rob for a head-coaching job, Rex said, “I have no clue. Let somebody else figure that one out.”
Be certain, though, that the plaudits didn’t just stay in the family.
As he watched practice Monday in Fairhope, La’Roi Glover — the former Saint and four-time All-Pro defensive tackle — commended Rob Ryan for installing a defense in New Orleans where “everybody has a vital role.”
“From what you see on tape ... he puts every guy on that roster in a position to take advantage of their individual abilities,” said Glover, who was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2013 and is now a scout for the St. Louis Rams. “That’s all you can ask for from a player’s standpoint: to (be put) in a position to showcase (your) skills and abilities.”
There’s no arguing with that, according to Kyle Van Noy, a BYU linebacker whom some believe the Saints could potentially select with the No. 27 pick in the draft in May.
Van Noy, on the South team for the Senior Bowl, admitted the possibility of playing for Rob Ryan excited him. Ryan’s defenses through the years have shown general improvement, and then it was off the charts last season.
In Van Noy’s words: “That’s who you want as a coach — somebody who’s going to make you better.”
Correction: Initially, this column incorrectly described La’Roi Glover as a defensive end. He was in fact a defensive tackle.