Legendary defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan dies at 85

Getty Images

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.

101 responses to “Legendary defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan dies at 85

  1. And every giants fan who knows we would have won more super bowls if not for kill drives play calling wish we could have done the same. Rest in peace Buddy Ryan

  2. Wow, sad news. Obviously as a Pats fan I have some feelings towards Rex and, to some degree, Rob as well, but only in matters of football. Condolences to Ryan family, Buddy was a legend and his sons have proudly followed in his coaching footsteps.
    I’m reminded of the post-game jingle for him sung by the players in an old NFL Films video I had as a kid in the 80s.
    “Hoo-ray for Buddy, hoo-ray for Buddy, hoo-ray for Buddy, the horse’s ass!” I’ll always remember that fondly.
    Oh and Kevin Gilbride, good news: you can resume sleeping with BOTH eyes closed again…

  3. He had his issues (just like us all) but it seems like he lived a very good and colorful life. He struggled with cancer for awhile so he is definitely in a better place.

  4. RIP Buddy.

    I’m a Jet fan who got to get a picture with him outside the Jets stadium while Rex was here in NY. Just because he had a brash personality doesn’t discredit him for being a great defensive mind and person.

  5. RIP Buddy. As a bears fan, I think he ought to be the first Defensive Coordinator in the HOF.
    Not only 1985 bears, but he was also on Vikings with Bud Grant when they were great, and the Jets when they won the Super Bowl

  6. Does anybody still run the 46 defense today? Joe Gibbs always said its achilles heel was a 2 tight end set, maybe thats why it fell out of favor since thats pretty common these days.

  7. Good coach, but you still have to have the players. He had them in Chicago. Nowhere else. RIP Buddy. Thanks to you and all the Bears for that Super Bowl XX title.

  8. An all-time legend. He made the Eagles a team to be feared and we loved him for it. RIP.

  9. If you haven’t seen the 30 for 30 on those bears you are missing out story of a lifetime and very sad to hear this I can only imagine how those former players and the Ryan’s are feeling right now RIP.

  10. Just watched the ’85 Bears 30 for 30 doc a couple weeks ago. He was the centerpiece of the narrative, and rightly so. But he was in pretty rough shape, been through some nasty health issues. Was nice to see him reunite with Singletary. Ryan is tremendous figure in NFL history. That one defense alone was legendary, but his defenses in Minnesota before the Bears, and Philadelphia and Houston after, were very good too. And a real character.

  11. Buddy Ryan made Mike Ditka “Da Coach”.
    Without Ryan and his 46 defense Mikey wouldn’t have been anything but a average coach at best.
    I’m not even a Bears fan, but words are true.

  12. RIP Buddy, condolences to his family and friends.
    That ’85 Bears D was the best I’ve ever seen. Not only did they breeze through the regular season allowing @ 12 ppg against a stiff schedule but they shut out a solid Rams team and a very potent Giants team in the playoffs.

  13. A larger than life innovator and architect of the greatest D in history

    Hope his boys can honor him this year with a successful season and do his legacy proud

  14. kneedragr says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:41 AM

    Does anybody still run the 46 defense today? Joe Gibbs always said its achilles heel was a 2 tight end set, maybe thats why it fell out of favor since thats pretty common these days.
    ************************************************
    Pretty much every team uses the 46 today.

    You should try watching football, you might learn something.

  15. Bad morning for the sports world, though no one can say this was a surprise.

    My condolences to the twins, both of whom did their dad proud by following in his footsteps, and to everyone who played for him and loved him.

  16. billy00balls says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:31 AM
    RIP Buddy
    The only assistant coach to be carried off the field by his team after a Super Bowl!

    ___________________

    Bill Belichick, Defensive Coordinator, New York Giants.

  17. It seems one person went down the list and gave a thumbs down to every comment. Why?

  18. As a Pats fan I’ll never forget Super Bowl XX – the excitement leading up to it and the 3+ hours of carnage during it. The Pats would’ve had a better shot punting on every first down.

    RIP Buddy.

  19. Buddy Ryan was an excellent defensive coordinator. That’s where he made his mark in the NFL and the ’85 Bears won the Super Bowl because their defense was one of the best ever.
    His Eagles defenses were very good, too.
    He was not a good head coach and contributed greatly to the lack of development of Randall Cunningham. He never knew a thing about the QB position — nor did he care — and it hurt him as a head coach.
    We all know what he did on national television when he tried to punch Kevin Gilbride. It was a classless thing to do, but Ryan never apologized for it because when it came to class, Ryan was sorely lacking.
    His sons are cut out of his ribs. They are also big mouths who talk about how great they are but never deliver on the field.
    When someone dies, we all feel a little sadness. It’s part of life and it makes us think of our own mortality. I had an uncle who was not religious. He was a good man who had a big heart, though. I asked him once why he would take his wife to church every Sunday, but never go in with her. He said it was a lot of hooey and added, “when you’re dead you’re dead”. He also said, “after you die, you’re either the greatest s.o.b. who ever lived, or you’re the worst”.
    I think there’s some truth to that second statement, and in Ryan’s case he was a little of both.

  20. joetoronto says:
    Jun 28, 2016 9:10 AM

    kneedragr says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:41 AM

    Does anybody still run the 46 defense today? Joe Gibbs always said its achilles heel was a 2 tight end set, maybe thats why it fell out of favor since thats pretty common these days.
    ************************************************
    Pretty much every team uses the 46 today.

    You should try watching football, you might learn something.
    __________________________________
    Why? Doesn’t seem to me you have learned anything. You are a common troll with 3 IDs. Pathetic.

  21. A genuine article who never hid who he was. Shot from the hip. Condolences to the family.

  22. Not at all sure Buddy won’t take a pop at St. Peter at the pearly gates. Then take all the credit from God for creating heaven and Earth. That said Buddy was a man’s man and the NFL is sorely lacking in those these days. RIP Buddy, it was a pleasure hating you and respecting you at the same time.

  23. joetoronto says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:26 AM
    RIP, Buddy.

    Only bozo’s don’t know it was his defense that won that Super Bowl.

    ——————

    You mean it wasn’t the laser-like precision and world class athleticism of Jim McMahon?

  24. Niners fan here who hated the Bears in the 80s because of their stifling defense. I always had a lot of respect for the team though as they looked like they were having lots of fun out there.

    He was one of the greatest and most innovative coaches.

  25. Loved his passion, and appreciated him even as his teams creamed mine. The Vikes were fortunate to have him here as a defensive coordinator for a couple years.

  26. Due respect — RIP Buddy. You vastly improved the game. But the ’76 Steelers were the greatest defense ever. Look it up….

  27. Little known, Buddy served two years in Korean war. Entered as a private came out Master Sergeant.

    Yeah that was one TOUGH sob.

    RIP coach

  28. Who votes “thumbs down” on here when the message is:

    “rest in peace”

    ?

    A man is dead

    He wasn’t Stalin or Hitler

    Some people I wonder about

    Of others I am sure

  29. I remember a game in the early 90s, the Broncos and John elway came into philly and were held to 50 total yards or something ridiculous, his defense totally shutting down one of the greatest qbs in history. The one thing you can say about his defenses, and it’s something that may be lost in today’s nfl, is the defenses job is to intimidate you. To hurt you. His defenses made you pay. A time long gone.

  30. I’ve been watching the NFL for almost 60 years, and the 1985 Bears defense was the greatest defense I ever saw.

    As in scary, as in the Pats knew they were in for a long afternoon.

    Signed

    Pats fan

  31. He was before my time, but what he did for football has made it great for me to watch today. RIP Buddy. Thoughts and prayers with the Ryan family.

  32. That 85 bears defense was truly suffocating and risk taking.
    But like everything else in the NFL, over time good coaches figure it out and find ways to combat it.

    I recall the very next season in the Metrodome, where Tommy Kramer (who was adept at stepping UP into the pocket to avoid the rush) and the Vikings torched this same defense for 376 yards over-all with 219 passing, two TDS throwing and Tommy running for one in what then was considered a “big upset”

    The Bears were 6-0 and only lost one other Regular season game that year.

    I still remember the Brent Musburger cut in from the National Game.. “And the upset is a brewin’ in the Metrodome. And again, it’s this man – Tommy Kramer leading the charge…”

  33. Coming from a Vikings fan
    The ’85 Bears was and is the greatest defense in history. They are like Michael Jordan in that, you can spout numbers and statistics all day long but you had to actually see them play to truly appreciate their greatness. Watching the Bears you were absolutely in awe of what they were doing. It looked as if they had 15 guys on the field and 12 of them were rushing the passer. If Buddy had only coached that one year it would have already cemented his legacy as an innovator and motivator. RIP

  34. Kingmj4891 says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:18 AM

    RIP Buddy Ryan you are a legend.

    up 300

    down 27

    *****************************************

    Who are the 27 losers?

  35. thehatefulnerd says:
    Jun 28, 2016 9:15 AM
    Mastermind? lol

    The Bears had some good players, I’ll give you that. Rex is Jerry Glanville 2.0 and Rob’s not much better. Masterminds indeed.
    ==================================

    You hit it right on the head. When they are feeling all sappy, people don’t like it when someone speaks the truth. The old man was a great DC, maybe the best ever. Those two sons of his are a pair of loudmouth losers that have serious head issues and give new meaning to the phrase self-centered. The Bears were glad they hired Buddy and maybe the Eagles were too. No one who ever hired the clowns – Rex and Rob – was ever glad they had hired them.

  36. Hearing stories from Buddy’s players about how he built them up, trusted them, and valued them as people will always stick in my mind as the way coaching should be done. He did a great job of coaching many of them as not just players, but also as human beings. We will continue to remember the example Buddy set on many occasions. May those memories help us find our way in supporting others as Buddy has.

  37. Never won a playoff game, but he hated the Cowboys as much as we did…rest in peace, Buddy!

  38. RIP Buddy, the BEST (and it’s not close) defensive coach I’ve ever seen. His defenses literally put fear into the other team’s offense.

    Never one like him before or since. Rest easy

  39. mallethead329 says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:45 AM
    Good coach, but you still have to have the players. He had them in Chicago. Nowhere else. RIP Buddy. Thanks to you and all the Bears for that Super Bowl XX title.

    ____________

    Idiotic statement. Reggie White? Jerome Brown? Eric Allen? Seth Joyner? Clyde Simmonds? The Philly defense was arguably better than the Chicago defense. The offense was another story, but Buddy never cared. He famously told Cunningham “just figure out a way to score 14 points somehow, because they won’t”

    He wasn’t built to be a HC, because he only cared about defense. But to say his defenses were only good in Chicago? Ridiculous. Those vikings squads were legendary, the only reason the Philly defense isn’t mentioned on lists of greatest ever is because they never won a title (see: Buddy didn’t care about the offense), but looking just at the numbers on the defensive side, they were as good as anyone. Even those Arizona defenses were near the top of the league (again, offense was a laughing stock)

  40. Rest in Peace Buddy!! Condolences go out to his family and friends. My childhood was a lot more fun because of you! You will be missed but never forgotten.

  41. Never forget how the eagles punished Aikman his rookie year. However once jimmy had firm control the eagles never beat the cowboy’s in a meaningful game again.

  42. Bad week for the ’85 Bears.

    First, it’s Fridge. Then, it’s Buddy.

    I hope that there’s a decal in his honor sporting the no. 46, representative of the greatest defense in NFL history.

    We’ll miss you Buddy. You were one of a kind.

  43. The one play I most remember him from is when he had Randall Cunningham fake a kneel-down as the clock wound down, and then throw long into the end zone with the game already wrapped up. Normally a classless move, but since it was against Dallas it was rather enjoyable.

  44. That was NOT a punch, it was a lady-punch at best. I dont even think he really made contact, just kinda glanced off him.

  45. shadywarrior says:
    Jun 28, 2016 8:31 AM
    Wow, sad news. Obviously as a Pats fan I have some feelings towards Rex and, to some degree, Rob as well, but only in matters of football. Condolences to Ryan family, Buddy was a legend and his sons have proudly followed in his coaching footsteps.
    I’m reminded of the post-game jingle for him sung by the players in an old NFL Films video I had as a kid in the 80s.
    “Hoo-ray for Buddy, hoo-ray for Buddy, hoo-ray for Buddy, the horse’s ass!” I’ll always remember that fondly.
    Oh and Kevin Gilbride, good news: you can resume sleeping with BOTH eyes closed again…

    64 21
    Report comment

    —————————————————————

    As a fellow patriots fan, regarding rob Ryan, fwiw he coached for the patriots. What’s more, even though he was not coaching for the patriots anymore, he put an mhk sticker on his call sheet each game the year she died, mirroring the mhk patch the patriots players wore

  46. Wow! Overwhelmingly positive posts about Buddy Ryan. It’s a testament to his fine character that no one can say anything negative about his career.

  47. Who could forget the all-time classic line, “All he does is score touchdowns, so I got rid of him.”

    A great coach and great entertainment. RIP

  48. Coming from a Vikings fan
    The ’85 Bears was and is the greatest defense in history. They are like Michael Jordan in that, you can spout numbers and statistics all day long but you had to actually see them play to truly appreciate their greatness. Watching the Bears you were absolutely in awe of what they were doing. It looked as if they had 15 guys on the field and 12 of them were rushing the passer. If Buddy had only coached that one year it would have already cemented his legacy as an innovator and motivator. RIP

    ______________________________________

    They were a great defense. But best ever? I can’t agree with that.
    I think if you go back and look at the Giants defenses of the late 50’s, the Packers and Chiefs defenses of the 60’s, the Steelers defense of the 70’s, the Lawrence Taylor Giants defenses, the Packers defense in 1996, and the Ravens defense in the 2000’s you’ll see defenses which match up very well with that Bears defense.

  49. I think ditka never quite could handle the stuff people would say in regard to the bears success being because of ryan instead of himself. which i enjoy because ditka is a grade A blow hard. he was never ever a good hc. how did that rickey williams trade work out for you coach ? what a meat head.

  50. RIP to a legend. Whether you liked or disliked him one knew where he stood with him. And he was outspoken, not like the stuffed shirts we see nowadays.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!