Buddy Ryan Passes Away: Architect Of The 1985 Chicago Bears’ Defense, Father Of Buffalo Bills Coaches Rex And Rob, Dead At 82

Jason Fletcher - Author

Jun. 28 2016, Updated 7:36 a.m. ET

According to ESPN and multiple sources, former NFL head coach and defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan has passed away at the age of 82. Ryan is the father to Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan and his fraternal twin, Rob, who is the assistant head coach of the Bills. Buddy compiled a 55-55-1 head coaching record over seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles (1986-90) and Arizona Cardinals (1994-95).

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Aside from being a head coach Buddy is considered one of the greatest defensive masterminds the NFL has ever seen. Ryan served as a defensive line coach with the Bills from 1961-65, then held the same position with the New York Jets from 1968-75 before moving on to the Minnesota Vikings from 1976-77.

Finally, Buddy received his chance to become defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears. Ryan took the job in 1978 and in his first season, the Bears’ defense ranked No. 12 in yards allowed and No. 9 in points allowed. The very next season, Buddy had produced a defense that was No. 6 in yards allowed and No. 3 in points allowed, and helped lead the Bears to the playoffs.

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By 1984, Ryan was the maestro of the top-rated defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and the No. 3 scoring defense. The Bears would make it to the NFC Championship Game, but would fall to the San Francisco 49ers, 23-0.

The following season, Buddy and the Bears were determined to not only reach the Super Bowl, but to bring home the first Super Bowl win for the organization. The Bears would end going accomplishing that goal by going 15-1 and destroying the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, 46-10. Ryan’s defense would be ranked No. 1 in just about every major statistical category and is still revered today as the best defensive unit of all time.

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After the Bears’ Super Bowl win, Buddy Ryan was offered the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. When Ryan arrived in 1986, the Eagles hadn’t had a winning record since 1981 and he was tasked with turning around a team that didn’t seem to have much trending positively for them.

Within three seasons, Buddy and the Eagles went 10-6 won the NFC East and made it to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs in 1988, where the team was upended by Ryan’s former team, the Bears. Buddy would lead the Eagles to the playoffs in 1989 and 1990, but the team would get knocked out in the Wild Card round in each of those seasons and Ryan was subsequently fired after the 1990 season.

Buddy reemerged in 1993 as the defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers. On the heels of a Ryan-led defense that finished No. 4 in the NFL in points allowed, the Oilers would win 11 games in a row and finish with a 12-4 record and win the AFC Central Division. After the team was upended in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, Buddy was offered the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals.

In 1994, Ryan orchestrated a defense that finished No. 3 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. Unfortunately, the Cardinals didn’t have enough offense to finish with a record better than 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The following season, the Cardinals’ offense and defense would struggle to the tune of a 4-12 record and Buddy was fired following the 1995 season.

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Ryan would decide to hang it up following that final season in Arizona. Buddy retired to his farm in Kentucky, where he bred race horses.

The Bills released a statement on the passing of Buddy Ryan early Tuesday morning.

“Buddy was a legend in our league in so many ways,” the statement said. “His defenses were innovative and he was a master at putting his talented and tough players in a position to succeed. He was a real game changer and much of his philosophies and defensive tactics are still utilized effectively by teams today. Buddy’s influence will be carried on by defensive coaches for generations to come, but none more so than by Rex and Rob. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the Ryan family today.”

Ryan will forever be considered one of the greatest defensive minds to have ever graced the game of football. Buddy is the architect of the “46 Defense” which, according to Wikipedia, is named for the number worn by Bears safety Doug Plank, which produced an NFL record 72 sacks in 1984, a record that still stands today.

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Buddy Ryan may have passed on, but his impact on the game of football will live on forever.

[Photo via Mike Powell/Getty Images]


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