No, Rob Ryan wasn’t hired over the weekend as Rams defensive coordinator. But there’s no doubt there is interest in Ryan by coach Jeff Fisher.
The question then becomes, would Ryan be a fit as the new Rams defensive coordinator? He was fired last week two years into a three-year contract as defensive coordinator in Dallas.
By the numbers, the Cowboys finished 19th in total defense, 25th in points allowed, tied for 18th in red zone defense, and 23rd in third-down defense in 2012. Ranking 19th in the NFL in total defense may not sound that bad, but the Cowboys’ 5,687 yards allowed was a franchise worst. The Cowboys came up with only 16 turnovers — only three teams in the league had fewer.
Then again, Ryan wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck. Four defensive starters were lost to season-ending injuries. In addition, Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff played in only six games because of a foot injury and a sports hernia. And elite pass rusher DeMarcus Ware was limited by shoulder, elbow and hamstring injuries.
The injuries took their toll as the season wore on. Through eight games, the Cowboys ranked fifth in the league in total defense, allowing 312.5 yards a game. Over the last eight games, the average leaped to 398.3 yards a game.
Practice squad linebacker (and St. Louisan) Jerry Brown was killed in a Dec. 8 auto accident, resulting in charges of intoxication and manslaughter charges against teammate Josh Brent. A nose tackle, Brent had been Ratliff’s replacement in the starting lineup. It’s impossible to truly gauge the impact of that human tragedy on the Cowboys’ defense — but it couldn’t have helped.
Flamboyant, and at times boastful, Ryan was popular with his players by all accounts. In terms of play-calling, he wasn’t afraid to take chances, although he did much less blitzing in 2012 than in 2011 when the Cowboys allowed the second-most passing yards (3,906) in franchise history.
Supporters cite his creativity and flexibility of his scheme; detractors say he wasn’t very organized and sometime let his emotions get the best of him.
Scheme-wise, most of Ryan’s background is in the 3-4 front, causing some Rams defenders to wonder if the team was switching to the 3-4 (from the 4-3) when the Ryan speculation surfaced over the weekend.
There are plenty of other options for Fisher at defensive coordinator, some more obvious than others. Almost certainly Gregg Williams isn’t one of them. Williams was hired last January by Fisher and then suspended indefinitely by the NFL less than two months later for his role in the “Bountygate” pay-for-performance scandal in New Orleans.
The firing of de facto coordinator (and linebackers coach) Blake Williams by Fisher was a pretty strong hint that Blake’s father — Gregg — would not be back.
There is no timetable on when the NFL might reinstate Gregg Williams; a decision may not be reached until after the Super Bowl. If Fisher indeed goes with a new coordinator, league sources say the Rams don’t have to wait on a Williams decision before they do so.
At his season-ending news conference Dec. 31, Fisher said he would address the defensive coordinator position “over the next couple of weeks,” but since has been out of pocket and unavailable to comment. But as one Fisher associate noted, Fisher doesn’t take a “ready-shoot-aim” approach when it comes to making staff changes. He takes his time.
POTENTIAL ‘NAME’ CANDIDATES
Several potential coordinator candidates are either on the market or about to be on the market. Recently fired head coaches Lovie Smith (Chicago) and Romeo Crennel (Kansas City) have extensive defensive backgrounds.
All indications are that Smith wants to get back into head-coaching as soon as possible, and he’s currently making the rounds on head-coaching interviews. Smith’s defenses have always featured 4-3 fronts, but it’s debatable whether his “Tampa 2” style of zone coverage would be a long-term fit with what Fisher wants to do. If Fisher is truly interested in Smith, he must wait until the head-coaching vacancies shake out.
As for Crennel, the bulk of his experience is in a 3-4 scheme. As of Monday afternoon, league sources said Crennel had not heard from the Rams.
Other possibilities could be Dave Wannstedt (Buffalo) and Dick Jauron (Cleveland). Both were coordinators at places where the head coach just got fired, although in Jauron’s case he had yet to officially be released from his Browns contract as of Monday. Jauron did a credible job in two seasons with Cleveland, working with a very young roster. He didn’t run an attack-style defense there and didn’t do a lot of blitzing. Nonetheless, the Browns did come up with 29 takeaways this season, tied for ninth in the league and eight more than the Rams’ total in 2012.
POTENTIAL IN-HOUSE CANDIDATES
Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis is highly respected around the league, has past coordinator experience and is very familiar with this defense. Fisher could go that way, but seems to prefer McGinnis in more of a “big-picture” role, dealing with and trouble-shooting just about all aspects of the team.
Secondary coach Chuck Cecil was Fisher’s defensive coordinator in Tennessee in 2010. Fisher fired Cecil after the season, but it’s unclear if that was a forced firing by Titans owner Bud Adams. Fisher subsequently parted ways with the Titans himself that offseason.
Clancy Pendergast’s name has come up — he was most recently the coordinator at the University of California-Berkeley. But he would probably be more of a candidate for linebackers coach than coordinator.
Frank Bush was recently fired by Tennessee as its linebackers coach. Bush hasn’t worked with Fisher since the Houston Oilers days when Bush was a defensive assistant and Fisher was defensive coordinator. Bush was coordinator for the Houston Texans from 2007-10 but was fired after a 6-10 campaign in which the Texans’ defense was decimated with injuries.
There’s always the chance Fisher could come out of left field for his new coordinator. For example, there was the hiring of Ben Sirmans last offeason as running backs coach — to his first pro job.
There is some thought at Rams Park that Fisher would like to bring in a younger defensive coordinator, someone who isn’t going to be looking for a head-coaching job right away and in theory would be around for a while. Such a coordinator could be trained by Fisher, McGinnis and Cecil along the way.