New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton took the next step toward fixing his defense, which set a dubious NFL record for yards allowed last season, with the hiring of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on Saturday.
The addition of Ryan, whom Payton met with Friday, was expected after Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham withdrew his name from consideration for the job Friday evening after interviewing for the position one day earlier.
Payton was expected to bring an unidentified candidate in for a visit Monday, but the search ended Saturday morning when the team announced the hiring of Ryan. Payton also added assistant special teams coach Stan Kwan to fill two of the five openings on his staff.
“I’m pleased the opportunity has presented itself for us to be able to add both Rob Ryan and Stan Kwan to our coaching staff,” Payton said in a team news release. “In regards to Rob, we have experience in preparing and playing against his defenses and they’ve always been challenging in terms of the different looks and pressures that they feature.
“We’ve had the chance to visit with each other and talk about our visions for our team, and I’m excited about moving forward as we prepare for the 2013 season,” he said. “Rob is enthusiastic about joining our team and getting right to work.”
While there were five openings on his staff, Payton’s hiring of Ryan, who was with the Dallas Cowboys the past two seasons, was an important piece to the puzzle as the Saints transition to a new defensive scheme.
When he fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on Jan. 24, Payton said the team would switch from the 4-3 base front he’s used since he arrived in 2006 to a 3-4 alignment after the Saints allowed an NFL-record 7,042 total yards in a 7-9 season.
In addition to finishing last in total yards allowed (440.1), the Saints were last in rushing defense (147.6) and were 31st out of 32 teams in pass defense (292.6) and scoring defense (28.4).
“I am excited and thrilled to be joining the New Orleans Saints,” Ryan said in the release. “I have had the opportunity to get to know Sean Payton and his staff a bit better recently and I am excited about joining the team.
“I’m ready to get to work on all facets of the game,” he said. “This is a great opportunity, and we’re getting started right away.”
Ryan, 50, will have to hit the ground running in his new post. He has a little more than a week to get up to speed in evaluating the Saints’ defense before heading to the scouting combine workouts, which will be held Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis.
An NFL defensive coordinator for the past nine seasons, Ryan is the son of former NFL defensive guru Buddy Ryan and is the twin brother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Rob Ryan has worked for the Arizona Cardinals (1994-95) and New England Patriots (2000-03) and has served as defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders (2004-08), Cleveland Browns (2009-10) and Cowboys (2011-12).
He won two Super Bowl rings during his time with the Patriots as linebackers coach for Bill Belichick.
In 2011, Ryan’s first year with the Cowboys, his defense finished 14th in total yards allowed — after ranking 23rd the year before — and was seventh against the run.
Last season, the Cowboys were 19th in total defense, ranking 22nd against the run and 19th in pass defense.
Ryan was fired on Jan. 8, a week after the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
He is the fourth defensive coordinator hired by Payton since he took the Saints’ job in 2006, following Gary Gibbs (2006-08), Gregg Williams (2009-11) and Spagnuolo (2012).
Kwan is a 22-year NFL coaching veteran who has been with four teams, including two stints with the Detroit Lions.
Kwan spent the past three seasons as assistant special teams coach with the Buffalo Bills, who last season led the NFL in punt returns (17.1) with two touchdowns and were fourth in kickoff returns (27.0).
Payton must still hire an offensive line coach, a secondary coach and an assistant defensive line coach to fill out his staff.