Buddy Ryan, a longtime coach who built perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history with the 1985 Bears, has died at the age of 85.
Beloved by his players and hated by opposing offenses (and sometimes hated even by his own offenses), Ryan masterminded Chicago’s 46 defense that won Super Bowl XX. He later served as head coach of an Eagles team that had a great defense in its own right, and ended his coaching career as head coach of the Cardinals in 1994 and 1995.
Ryan’s 35-year career as a football coach began in 1961 as a defensive line coach with the University at Buffalo Bulls, and in 1968 he moved to the Jets, helping them win Super Bowl III. He spent two years with the Vikings in 1976 and 1977 before George Halas hired him to coach the Bears’ defense in 1978.
It was with the Bears that Ryan saw his greatest success. Although Mike Ditka was the head coach, many thought it was Ryan’s coaching of the defense that really made the 1985 Bears one of the best teams in NFL history. After Super Bowl XX, the Bears carried both Ditka and Ryan off the field.
A fiery competitor, Ryan’s best-remembered moment in coaching came at the end of the 1993 season, his only year as defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers. Upset with the Oilers’ offensive play calling, Ryan punched offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in a nationally televised sideline skirmish.
Ryan is survived by his twin sons, Bills head coach Rex Ryan and Bills assistant coach Rob Ryan.