METAIRIE — In preparing for his first meeting with local reporters since being hired by head coach Sean Payton on Feb. 9, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan decided to have a little fun Thursday.
Ryan stood to the side and patiently waited for Payton to wrap up his news conference after the first organized team activity open to media this spring, then stepped to the microphone at the team’s training facility.
Before the first question could be asked, Ryan, whose flowing gray hair was stuffed beneath a Saints ball cap, said, “I’ve got no comment” — and started to walk away.
Ryan has been busy for the past 31/2 months installing a new 3-4 scheme that Payton ordered for his team after it allowed an NFL single-season record 7,042 total yards during a miserable 7-9 season in 2012. The carnage led to the swift dismissal of former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after Payton returned from his bounty suspension in late January and brought Ryan, who was fired by the Dallas Cowboys after two seasons, to the Saints.
After being dumped by the Cowboys, Ryan famously predicted that he would get another job in five minutes. It took him a little longer — about five weeks — but he said he feels he landed in the right place after interviewing with the St. Louis Rams.
“It’s awesome. ... I got lucky,” he said. “I’m fortunate enough to be with a great program like the Saints led by Sean Payton. I haven’t felt this way since I was in New England with Bill Belichick (as linebackers coach from 2000-03). So I’m working for the best, and I hope to be a small part of our success.”
When asked to elaborate, Ryan said there is a sense of urgency with Payton and the Saints after a solid three-year run, when they won 41 games, was interrupted by last year’s distraction-filled season.
“I can’t wait to give everything I have to this organization,” a smiling Ryan said. “I know everybody is on the same path. That big sign that used to be up there, ‘Do your job’ — I’ve heard those words before. I plan on doing it.”
Ryan is obviously motivated and humbled by his sudden departure from the Cowboys, which came even though they ranked 14th in total defense in 2011 and 19th last season.
The popular notion was the 50-year-old Ryan, the twin brother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, was made the scapegoat for the Cowboys’ back-to-back 8-8 finishes, which kept them out of the playoffs for a third straight season. The Saints were 24th in 2011 under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and 32nd last season under Spagnuolo.
Ryan said he could see a parallel between what happened to him and the Saints, who also ranked last in run defense and were 31st against the pass.
“It’s a very fortunate situation to be in,” he said of landing in New Orleans. “These guys have been well-coached before. They’re smart. They’re just ready to win. ... I think we all have a chip on our shoulder after last season. I don’t like getting fired. I know I had a job in five minutes, so it was no big deal. I know I got my feelings hurt, and so did our players. We’re looking to do something about it.”
Payton obviously feels he got the right man for the job.
“I like his passion. … You know, he’s someone I spent a lot of time researching and arriving at that decision, guys that I know very well that have worked with him,” Payton said. “I like the way players respond, and I think he’s a perfect fit for what we’re looking for.”
The Saints signed cornerback Keenan Lewis, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Victor Butler in free agency to get started, then gave Ryan more help with two of their top three draft picks — safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive tackle John Jenkins. Ryan is excited to add them to a core group of returnees that includes inside linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton, the team’s top tackler, and defensive end Cameron Jordan, who led the club in sacks.
But he knows it’ll take some time to mold them into a cohesive unit with just three OTAs behind them. Seven more OTAs and a three-day minicamp will complete the installation of his system before they hit the ground running for training camp in late July.
“I want to be a part of this,” Ryan said. “I’ve got to push these guys mentally to the limit, see what they can and can’t do. ...
“I’ve been so impressed by these guys. I haven’t taken over a defense that’s picked up things as fast as these guys have on the board. Now, doing it out there on the field is a different thing.”