His mental checklist prepared, Buddy Ryan wants to set the record straight about his first season as the defensive coordinator.
No, he’s not after Coach Jack Pardee’s job.
Yes, he wants to be an NFL head coach again. Some day.
No, he doesn’t hold a grudge against Oiler wide receiver Ernest Givins, who publicly criticized Ryan two weeks ago.
And yes, despite a 1-2 start, Houston can win the Super Bowl this year, Ryan said.
“Wait,” he said. “Defensively, we are good enough to go to the Super Bowl right now. I don’t know about us on the other side of the ball.”
Ryan’s blitzing 46 defense has forced offensive coordinators to lose sleep for years. So if anyone can find an offense’s weakness, it’s him--even with his own team.
So what else is new?
Controversy has followed Ryan around like a kid brother during a 24-year career that has included Super Bowl trips as a defensive coach with Chicago, Minnesota and the New York Jets.
Although tremendously loyal to many of his current and former players, his image is one of a guy who tends to get under some people’s skin.
“If you played for him, you would know,” said Houston linebacker Wilber Marshall, who played for Ryan on Chicago’s Super Bowl team during the 1985 season. “He’s a great coach, very demanding.
“There has been a lot of hype over the years, some people out to give him a bad name. Some people just look at Buddy, and they hate him.”
In Chicago, Ryan had several well-publicized battles with Bill Tobin, Bear vice president of player personnel, and former Bear Coach Mike Ditka.
In five seasons as Philadelphia’s head coach, Ryan clashed with owner Norm Braman. Ryan led the Eagles to playoff appearances in the final three seasons, but Braman fired him after the 1990 season.
When Jerry Glanville brought the run-and-shoot offense to Houston in the mid-1980s, Ryan referred to it as the “run-and-duck” and the “chuck-and-duck.”
Ryan has never hidden his disdain for Houston’s high-tech passing offense, and he still doesn’t.
“I’m not a hypocrite,” he said. “I called it the ‘run-and-duck’ 10 years ago.”
His opinion upset Givins, who took shots at Ryan for what he thought was a lack of respect for Pardee and the offensive players and coaches.
“Coach Pardee makes the decisions, not Buddy,” Givins told reporters at a football luncheon following the Oilers’ 33-21 loss to New Orleans in the season opener.
“Everybody wants to be a chief and call the shots, and that’s Pardee. Other guys are riled up, but they’re just not saying anything. I’m not trying to be a big shot, but I’m tired of hearing the same old bull.”
Even San Diego Charger fans joined the fray. A sign hanging by the Houston lockerroom entrance at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium on Sunday displayed the message: “Hey Buddy--Are You Having MisGivins?”
None whatsoever, Ryan said.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “One damn little wide receiver goes to a luncheon and someone asks him, ‘So, what did you think when Buddy said Pardee shouldn’t have decided to punt in that situation?’ He (Givins) was all upset about it.”
Houston’s defense, naturally, came to Ryan’s defense.
“Buddy is a ornery S.O.B.,” defensive end Sean Jones said. “What can I say?
“But everything Givins said was a joke. The guys who actually play for Buddy don’t feel the way Ernest does.”
The Oilers, ranked sixth in the league in defense, haven’t given up a touchdown in the last two weeks. And all they have to show for it is a 1-2 record.
The problem is Houston’s offense, which has struggled with turnovers, including five in an 18-17 loss to San Diego. The Chargers scored all of their points on field goals.
“That was murder,” Ryan said. “We gave them the ball at our eight-, 28-, 42- and their 48-yard lines. And we didn’t give up a touchdown.”
Over the years, Ryan’s defenses have done everything he has asked, and the result has been Super Bowl trips.
He helped coach the Jet defense that shut down Baltimore in Super Bowl III.
In 1976, his “Purple People Eaters” defensive line of Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Alan Page and Gary Larsen reached Super Bowl XI.
In Chicago, Ryan developed the blitzing 46 defense, designed to pressure the quarterback. It helped the Bears win the Super Bowl.
In his only stint as a head coach, Ryan guided Philadelphia to a 43-35-1 record, including the 1988 NFC East championship.
But Ryan, 59, has never been to the Super Bowl as a head coach, a fact that motivates him to try again.
“Every assistant in the league wants to be a head coach,” Ryan said. “But there are very few proven winners.”
After Philadelphia fired him, Ryan spent the next two seasons raising horses on his farms in Kentucky and Florida.
But Houston fired defensive coordinator Jim Eddy after the Oilers blew a 35-3 third-quarter lead to Buffalo in a wild-card playoff game last season. Ryan applied, and the Oilers hired him.
He inherited a veteran defense with linebacker Al Smith and defensive tackle Ray Childress. But Ryan wanted more help and got Marshall, an All-Pro linebacker.
Ryan challenged Houston’s players to learn his complicated defense, which uses as many as 13 defensive fronts and 20 coverage schemes.
“We are getting better every week,” Ryan said. “We’ve made a few mistakes here and there, and this hasn’t been an easy adjustment. These guys have had to study hard. They’re going from a no-brain defense to one that requires them to think.”
Jones knows that all too well. He expected to hear it from Ryan while reviewing game tapes of Sunday’s loss. Jones jumped offsides twice.
“He’s the kind of guy who will sit down and talk to you about it, though,” Jones said. “If there’s a problem, you can tell him.
“He might tell you to go to hell. And you might tell him to go to hell. But at least you’re talking about it.”
* SAME OLD EVERETT: Buddy Ryan still sees “a big arm and nervous feet” when it comes to Rams’ Jim Everett. C2