The NFL Network's Adam Schefter made as astute observation the other day, but he missed the analytical layup:
Just look at this year’s coaching search.
-- Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a defensive back on that great Bears defense, is a finalist for the Rams and Lions’ head-coaching jobs.
-- Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, a linebacker on that great Bears defense, is interviewing today for the Lions’ head-coaching job.
-- 49ers head coach Mike Singletary, the heart of that great Bears defense, already has had the interim tag dropped from his title.
-- Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, a defensive back on that great Bears defense, has perenially been one of the league’s best coaches.
-- So, already the 1985 Bears have given the NFL three head coaches, with more quite possibly on the way, giving a modern-day meaning to The Shuffle.
And now we know the truth. As good as Mike Ditka might have been, he had a lot of dance partners.
Right team, wrong honcho. Mike Ditka did in fact head the '85 Bears, but any Chicago fan will tell you these assistants all worked for Buddy Ryan, the DC who preceeded Iron Mike on the Bears staff. The two of them jockeyed for credit and after the Bears demolished the Patriots, Buddy's defensive guys carried him off the field while Ditka's offensive players raised him on their shoulders.
This year's playoffs are in fact the Return of the Ryan. In addition to the assistants mentioned above, note:
Ryan's son Rex Ryan is the leading candidate for the Jets job.
Big time DC Gregg Williams, who just took New Orleans' DC post, apprenticed under Buddy at Houston, where he was Ryan's LB coach. He later followed Jeff Fisher to Tennessee and coordinated the Titans '99 Super Bowl defense.
Jim Schwartz, the DC who followed Williams at Tennessee, also was schooled under Fisher, who has thus far been Ryan's most successful disciple.
Even Cowboys' HC Wade Phillips learned some chops from the Buddy. Wade was Ryan's DC when Buddy took over the Eagles in 1986. Wade used a version of Buddy's 46 defense this year to get Jay Ratliff one-on-one with NFL centers. It's a big reason Ratliff got 8 sacks and a small reason why the Cowboys led the NFL with 59 sacks.
We're in a defensive cycle, with pressure schemes, be they 3-4 for 4-3 fronts, all the rage on defense. I wrote at the end of last year that we had not seen a dominant defense in the '06 or '07 seasons. The pendulum started to swing back towards defense; sure, there were record points scored, but we also saw units like Pittsburgh's, Tennessee's, Baltimore's, New York's and Philly's who could stuff the run and play tight man-to-man.
Only one of the top ten units this year played the Tampa Two. Fittingly, that was Tampa Bay, whose DC Monte Kiffin is leaving for the University of Tennessee. With Tony Dungy going into retirement, we're already seeing predictions that the Tampa Two will be out of favor for a while.
Bill Belichick's defensive assistants have been hot commodities in recent years: Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennell and Nick Saban all worked with the Hoodied One at Cleveland or in New England. We're also seeing Bill Parcells 2.0s' influence waxing, as Tony Sparano has succeeded in Miami and Todd Bowles and Paul Pasqualoni are getting HC interviews in the wake of Sparano's amazing Miami turnaround. (And we should not forget that Sean Payton got his job after working as the Tuna's Cowboys OC.)
Today, however, it's Buddy Ryan's shadow that looms largest over NFL.