By his own estimation, it had been 17 years since Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan participated in a clinic before speaking to a large group Thursday night to help open the annual LSU Football Coaches Clinic.
But it was obvious Ryan, who is entering his second season with the Saints, didn’t forget what to say as he regaled and entertained high school and college coaches for more than an hour in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Ryan, who orchestrated one of the biggest defensive turnarounds in NFL history in taking 2012 Saints from 32nd in total yards allowed to fourth this season, gave tips on how to organize a defense, how to utilize the staff and how to use the entire roster in addition to sharing some of his philosophies on the 3-4 scheme he implemented and taught.
Before getting into the teaching part of it, Ryan talked about how he had to get the Saints defense moving in the right direction after they gave up more yards — 7,042 — than any other team in NFL history prior to his arrival.
Ryan noted that he started by telling his players that they were “going to have fun at somebody else’s expense.”
“We’re going to kick the … out of people,” he said. “ ‘The bottom line is we’re playing a kid’s game and we’re coaching a kid’s game. If you want to have fun, come with us.’ ”
Ryan, who was fired by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after two seasons with the team, was hired by Saints coach Sean Payton to put some bite in his defense while switching it from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.
“I said that the task can’t be any worse than what I was perceived as (after his firing),” he noted before looking up at the coaches in front of him. “If you’re an 0-10 team and you’re sitting in the season, do something about it.”
Ryan, who coached at Oklahoma State in the late 1990s with LSU coach Les Miles, said he put up three signs when he met with his team for the first time.
One of them, he said, was called Code Black. The basic principles of the sign were to be prepared, play at max speed, be physical and finish.
“Nobody knew at the time what it meant except the coaches,” he explained. “I told them they would know what it meant when they made the team.
“If you’re going to play our style of football, you’ll know what Code Black is. This is how we do it — how we prepare, play nasty and be physical. It’s what’s important to you. When they made the team, we handed it out and we said, ‘You’re going to play this way, or you’re not going to be here.’ ”
The result was an aggressive defense that ranked second in pass defense and fourth in total defense, points allowed and sacks after ranking 30th in sacks in 2012.
Ryan said he and the Saints coaches, after a short break following their elimination from the playoffs in the divisional round, are continuing to work on ways to improve even more in 2014.
“We’re been breaking down film, doing our self-scout, and mostly been watching the college kids trying to get our evaluations in,” he said. “I’ll be taking on some Pro Days and stuff and I’m looking forward to LSU’s Pro Day (on April 9).”
While he’s eager to get his players back for the start of strength and conditioning work on April 21, Ryan was excited about what free agency brought the Saints — three-time Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd.
“He can hawk that ball, so it’s going to be fun to watch him,” said Ryan, who will pair Byrd with 2013 rookie sensation Kenny Vaccaro at strong safety.
Ryan noted that Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton didn’t tell him that they were going to pursue Byrd, who received a six-year, $54 million contract, until just before the start of free agency.
“I tell you what, to be honest with you I had no idea,” he said of their interest in Byrd. “I was just overwhelmed, so excited about it.
“They were smart about. They know players and they know who we need and went out and got the guy we really need and I’m just so excited about it. To get this young man, it’s so awesome for us.”
Clinic continues Friday
The LSU Football Coaches Clinic continues Friday with a morning session featuring quarterbacks coach George Whitfield, which concludes with a keynote address from former NFL All-Pro linebacker and current ESPN analyst Ray Lewis.
Oakland Raiders special teams coach Bobby April, a Chalmette native and former Saints assistant, will speak in the afternoon, followed by LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.