As Dr. Seuss once said “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Earlier today the Bills made what everyone knew was bound to happen official. Rex and Rob Ryan have been fired. He will finish his almost two season stint with Buffalo with a record of 15-16 and has slipped to 61-66 in his entire coaching career. Reports have claimed that Rex had lost the locker room and especially the defense. While I admire the kind of bravado the Ryan brothers bring, it is truly amazing they have held their respective positions this long. I do think it is important to differentiate between the two. Rex is a good football coach. He understands the defensive side of the ball better than most coaches in the NFL. He just simply doesn’t have the makeup to be a head coach. Rob is another story completely. Rob has no business coaching in the NFL because he has proven no matter where he is, bad defense follows. So while they appear very similar, I want to discuss them separately.
Let’s start with Rob. Rob Ryan has spent 13 years in the NFL as a defensive coordinator. Out of those 13 years his defense has ranked in the top 10 twice. He has finished 25th or lower in total defense six times. His total defensive average comes to a disappointing 21 out of 32 teams and if you take out his only two productive seasons with the Raiders and Saints that average is even more dismal. In no statistical category is Rob Ryan a good defensive coordinator. Hell, he isn’t even a decent one. Ryan coached arguably the single worst defense in NFL history prior to getting fired in 2015 with the Saints. That defense finished the season giving up the most passing touchdowns in league history as well as giving up a poultry 424.7 yards per game which would have been second all-time. By all accounts his defenses loved playing for him which to me is even more of an indictment of his coaching ability. His week to week game plans left me puzzled as to what he could possibly be thinking. What bothers me even more is looking through social media and seeing fans clamoring to have him coach their defense. Unless they are planning on winning every game in a shootout, they better look elsewhere. The mere fact that Rob survived 13 seasons as a defensive coordinator is astounding and it proves that it really helps to have the Ryan name.
Now let’s talk Rex. While I personally love what he brings to a football team, it couldn’t be more clear that he isn’t fit to be a head coach. With his loss to Miami this weekend he has clinched a 6th straight season without a winning record. In most organizations you get one to two years to produce a winning season or show some type of promise. What I think is the biggest problem with Rex as a coach is his inconsistency. Every year his teams show some real ability at one point or another during the season, but never seem to come through in the games that matter most. It wasn’t too long ago that the Bills were 4-2 with a huge victory against the (albeit Brady-less) Patriots. With all the momentum in the world and a strong chance to contend for the division they followed it up with three straight losses. The team never recovered and has limped down the final stretch. Very simply, his teams of late have just never able to put it all together.
Rex made it clear when he was hired in Buffalo that this would be his last coaching stop. While he is expected to field offers as a TV analyst it would be disappointing to see Rex out of football. Regardless of how you feel about him personally or as a head coach, you cannot deny that Rex is a fantastic defensive coach. Rex Ryan has been the head of a defense as a coordinator or head coach every year since 2005. His defenses have finished in the top-10 in yards allowed 9 times. They have been top-10 in rush and pass yards allowed 8 times as well. Finally, his defenses have finished in the top-10 in points allowed 5 times. What is abundantly clear is that outside of the past few years as a head coach Rex has proven he can produce a great defense. This is exactly why he should still be a coach in the NFL, just not a head coach. The responsibility of being a head coach in the NFL is as demanding as any job. Watching Rex the past few years, it has been obvious to me that he has spent less and less time coaching the defense and more time managing the team as a whole. My belief is that despite Rob’s struggles as a defensive coach, Rex brought him in to be an extension of himself. That was clearly a mistake, but for those out there saying Rex can’t coach couldn’t be more wrong.
I know Rex will be too proud to take a demotion and fall back into the role as a defensive coordinator, but he really should take a page out of Wade Phillips’ playbook. After his disastrous run as the Cowboys head coach he took a step away from football for a year, came back, and got himself a ring leading the best defense in football with the Broncos. While it may be a hard pill to swallow Rex can earn back his reputation as a defensive mastermind, I personally would love to see that.