METAIRIE, La. — On vacation in paradise, Rob Ryan’s time at the Turks and Caicos islands was interrupted this past January by a jarring phone call from Dallas.
It was the Cowboys and, after a two-year stint on the coaching staff, he was being let go, the fall-man for a defensive unit that failed to meet expectations.
So, he called his brother Rex, the head coach of the New York Jets, and vented.
Then he targeted where he wanted to ply his trade, landing squarely on the New Orleans Saints.
But there was only one problem – Steve Spagnuolo was still the defensive coordinator at that point even though the Saints’ defense had set an NFL record for mediocrity.
“The second call I made was to (then New Orleans offensive line coach) Aaron Kromer saying, ‘Hey man. I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but can you talk to Sean (Payton)?’ ” Ryan said Friday. “Well, he couldn’t; nobody could. So I was like, ‘Damn.’ Because that would be the perfect spot for me.”
Instead, he began talks with St. Louis and on Jan. 29, he agreed to become the Rams’ defensive coordinator under Coach Jeff Fisher.
Yet, there was something that didn’t sit right and before he could sign a contract, he backed out.
“Just from being there and finding out the direction of how they wanted to do things, it was my obligation not only to me, but to them, to just walk away and look for something different,” Ryan said.
It didn’t hurt that five days before he agreed with St. Louis, the Saints had fired Spagnuolo. While Payton didn’t have much of a personal relationship with Ryan prior to this year, the Saints coach did know that if Ryan were available, he should at least talk with him.
“I had received a call and it was from someone else that said, he might be available,” Payton said. “He is not staying in St. Louis and so once that was the case I had an interest. It ended up working out for us.”
It certainly has.
The Saints (10-3) have the No. 6 overall defense, including the third-best pass defense in the NFL. They’ve allowed 1,603 fewer yards through 13 games than a season ago, 16 fewer touchdowns and 131 fewer points.
Sunday, Fisher will get a chance to see what could have been when Ryan’s Saints play in St. Louis (5-8) at 3:25 p.m.
“People sometimes in life change their mind and I was fine with that,” Fisher said. “I had no problem. If he wanted to go there, that’s fine. If he wanted to stay here, that’s great. We were obviously talking and had a couple of things together and he had a change of heart. That is fine and (I) have respect for that.”
What changed for Ryan was not just a deeper look at the Rams’ roster and situation, but his interest in putting his family in a good situation after having moved four times in about a half decade.
“With that situation, I don’t think I can fully commit to something that wasn’t exactly what I believed in, despite having great people in the building,” Ryan said, later adding, “The scheme fit was more of a 4-3, so it just didn’t get the right vibe.
“I thought to myself – I was mad already about the Dallas situation – that, you know what, this is the best thing for me to do and for them for me to walk away (and) wait for the perfect opportunity to come because I knew I was going to get one.”
Everything so far has paid off for Ryan, who is the defensive coordinator on a team with a winning record for the first time in his NFL career.
With three regular season games to go, though, he doesn’t feel like the defense has hit its peak.
“Trust me, this defense is playing well, but we know we can play better,” Ryan said.