METAIRIE, La. — The book on Rob Ryan before he came to New Orleans this past offseason was that his personality was as outsized as his figure, more colorful than his famous flowing gray hair.
Nearly eight months in, however, and that personality has remained hidden, tucked behind between-the-line statements about just doing one little part to help the team.
But surely this week, when his Saints (6-2) host Dallas (5-4), the franchise that unceremoniously fired him this past winter, Ryan would explode in a rage of emotions.
“I’m just trying to be a little tiny part of our success here with the Saints and that’s all I care about,” Ryan said Friday. “I don’t care about anything else. I just want to be great, do the best I can with the Saints and we’re all working hard together in trying to be a part of something special.”
Wait. Is Ryan, at 50, maturing?
“I think it’s maturity,” Ryan said. “There’s no question it’s maturity. I’m able to handle it better. But hell, really honest to God, that’s right.”
It could also be that, for the first time as a defensive coordinator, Ryan is a in a good situation. After stops in Oakland, Cleveland and Dallas, he has an offense that’s consistently atop the league in yards, points and time of possession.
Or it could be that he really has come to terms with the way the NFL world works.
“I just think it’s just – if I worried about every team that’s fired me, I mean, hell, I’d have a grudge every week,” Ryan said. “This is a huge game. It’s a big game for both teams. .... That’s the way this sport is. People change teams.”
But even last week, when his Saints were playing his brother Rex’s Jets, he didn’t take jabs like he has in the past. There was none of the usual public repartee between the brothers.
“This is how we know Rob Ryan is a changed man,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “This is his opportunity to make it all about him and about how he can get redemption. He’s really focused on us just going out, playing well, getting a win and moving on.”
The perception prior to Payton’s hiring of Ryan was that his personality would clash, much like that of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
So far, though, it has been anything but incompatible.
Payton, outwardly at least, likes what he sees in Ryan. And what’s not to like. The defense is ranked ninth in the NFL, including fifth against the pass. The team is fourth in sacks per pass attempt and sixth in third-down percentage, allowing a meager 34.7 percent of them to be converted.
More importantly, the Saints are fifth in the NFL in points allowed per game at 18.3.
“I like his personality,” Payton said. “He’s passionate about the game. I think you’re always looking for people have that passion about teaching, about coaching football. I think he’s an outstanding staff member. I think he’s very good in that regard. You grow to appreciate that the more and more you do this.”
In listening to Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett, there appears to be much of the same respect for Ryan despite having fired him less than a year ago.
The Cowboys began 2012 strong defensively, ending Week 8 at the fourth-best defense in the league. But by Week 12, that had dropped to No. 8 and after the season finale, it was No. 19. But Ryan worked with what he had; 10 defensive players ended up on injured reserve by the end of the season.
“Probably through week 10, we were one of the best defenses in the league,” Garrett said. “We really just got decimated by injuries, and I thought Rob did a good job of keeping everybody together and working through the different players that were in for us. I think he’s a fantastic coach. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he’s having the success he’s having down there.”
Ryan complimented the Cowboys franchise Friday afternoon, saying he was fortunate to work there for two years.
Getting fired from Dallas didn’t cut down on his confidence one bit.
“I know I’m a great coach,” Ryan said. “Whatever it is, it is. But I said in Dallas on my way out, there’s a couple of better coaches than me that have been fired. Not many, but there’s a couple. So that’s just the way it is.”