Buddy Ryan took a back seat to no one. Neither did his fierce defenses that won two Super Bowls.
The pugnacious coach and defensive mastermind whose twin sons have been successful NFL coaches, died Tuesday. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by the Buffalo Bills, where Rex Ryan is the head coach and Rob Ryan an assistant. James Solano, Buddy Ryan's agent, said he died in Kentucky but did not give a cause; reports indicated Mr. Ryan had been battling cancer. Mr. Ryan lived on a ranch in Shelbyville.
Mr. Ryan coordinated the ground-breaking 46 defense for the title-winning 1985 Bears, then was a head coach for the Eagles from 1986-90 and the Cardinals in 1994-95, compiling a 55-55-1 record.
James David Ryan, a Korean War veteran, was born in Frederick, Okla., on Feb. 17, 1931 but, according to Rex Ryan's memoir, told teams he was born in 1934 to make them think he was younger than he was. The confusion lasted so long that numerous reports Tuesday had Mr. Ryan dying at 82, not his actual age of 85.
Mr. Ryan got his first major job in the pros with the New York Jets as linebackers coach. In his first year, 1968 — though quarterback Joe Namath was the star — those Jets led the AFL in defense and shocked the Colts in the Super Bowl, 16-7.
"That's something my dad was very proud of," Rex Ryan said. "When (former Jets coach Weeb) Ewbank hired him, he had to make a difference. If he felt he wasn't making a difference, then his career as a professional coach would be short."
After eight years as a Jets assistant and two with the Vikings, Mr. Ryan moved to the rival Bears, where he concocted the 46 defense that overwhelmed the league.
Mr. Ryan's defenders, featuring such Hall of Famers as linebacker Mike Singletary and ends Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, came from all angles and were nearly impossible to stop.
"Some say the 46 is just an eight-man front," said Mr. Ryan, who named the scheme after safety Doug Plank, who wore that number. "That's like saying Marilyn Monroe is just a girl."
Mr. Ryan and Bears head coach Mike Ditka often clashed. One of the lasting images of Super Bowl XX, in which Chicago routed New England 46-10, was of players carrying both Ditka and Mr. Ryan off the field afterward.
His work in Chicago got Mr. Ryan the Eagles job.
He guided the Eagles to the playoffs in 1988, '89 and '90, but they lost all three playoff games and owner Norman Braman fired Mr. Ryan after the 1990 season despite a 43-35-1 record.
Earlier that season, Mr. Ryan bragged his Eagles would so badly beat up the Redskins in a Monday night game "they'll have to be carted off in body bags." The Eagles' defense scored three touchdowns in a 28-14 win and knocked nine Redskins out of the game, including two quarterbacks.
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In addition to Rex and Rob Ryan, Buddy Ryan is survived by another son, Jim, the Eagles said.