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The Buddy System: How Buddy Ryan Is Still Shaping NFL Defenses

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Buddy Ryan's defenses burned a lot of NFL offenses. Here's a look at some of the people to whom he passed the torch.

"The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band" - Brian Eno

The influence Buddy Ryan has had on the NFL is in some ways similar to the influence that the Velvet Underground had on the future of rock and roll. I`m pretty certain it's the only similarity that can be drawn between the two.

Buddy Ryan may not have won the hearts and minds of the people of Philadelphia, where he was head coach of the Eagles. Likewise the fans of the Arizona Cardinals probably don`t talk much about his tenure there.  But ask the people of Chicago about Buddy Ryan, and they`ll get excited, telling stories about the NFL's greatest defense, and the players who made it work.

Buddy Ryan was the architect of the `46` defense, the scheme that propelled the 1985 Bears to Super Bowl XX and made offenses cringe from San Francisco to New England. Lots of teams tried to copy Buddy`s philosophy after that year, but they lacked both the personnel and the passion to make it succeed the way Ryan did.

Especially the passion.

Buddy Ryan knew how to inspire. He knew how to make men completely invested emotionally in their team's campaign. He had the know-how to unravel opposing offenses, but even more than that; he made his players want to destroy those offenses more than anything else in the world. Buddy's influence in the NFL did not stop in 1995, when he left the league and took up horse breeding full-time. His imprint on the NFL is still being felt today.

The Sons Of Buddy Ryan: Buddy has twin sons, Rex and Rob Ryan. Rex Ryan is the head coach of the New York Jets, who are set to take on the Bears at Soldier Field Sunday. Rob is currently the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. The Ryans attended Stevenson High School in suburban Lincolnshire.

As boys, the Ryan brothers were immersed in the NFL at a young age. They were ball boys for the '85 Bears, and spent a lot of time on the sidelines watching their father and his players work. Both of the Ryans as coaches show the influence of their father in their work, with their respective teams featuring smothering, risk-taking defenses.

Personality-wise, while they display shades of Buddy's gruffness on the sidelines, they both reveal more playful sides off the field. The week leading up to the Jets-Browns game earlier in the year had the brothers one-upping in each other in outrageousness for the benefit of the press, with jibes and stunts involved enough to include props and wigs and false beards. Their father was never known for his sense of humor when interacting with the press. Or, anybody else for that matter.

Buddy's Bears: Ryan motivated his players to give everything they had on the playing field. He motivated some players to go into coaching themselves. There may be no better example of a Buddy Ryan disciple than Mike Singletary. Singletary joined Buddy's Bear defense in 1981, and it was a match made in Heaven. 'Iron' Mike Singletary was the dominating presence Ryan needed in the middle to make his 46 defense run. Buddy Ryan was the mentor whose philosophies and motivational tools shaped Singletary into the leader he would become as a player for the Bears, and a coach, for the San Francisco 49ers.

Singletary became the interim head coach of the 49ers in 2008, and instantly made a 'Ryan-esque' statement by ordering tight-end Vernon Davis to the locker room during a game. He later gave an incendiary press conference, that channeled Buddy Ryan's demand that every player give everything he can to the game, or he doesn't play.

The man who has at different times held both Mike Singletary`s middle linebacker position, and Buddy Ryan's defensive coordinator position for the Bears, is Ron Rivera. Rivera was Singletary`s back-up on the 85 Bears, and as the 'man in the middle' was also responsible for directing Buddy's schemes. He later became the defensive coordinator for the 2006 Bears, whose defense was largely responsible for their Super Bowl appearance. Rivera currently plies his trade, as the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Rivera is quietly passionate, and his successes and knowledge of the game should certainly see him win a head coaching position in the coming years. 

Leslie Frazier, who was recently named the interim head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, was also a member of the legendary 85 Bears defense, as a hard hitting safety. Frazier had been the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, before taking the same position with the Vikings in 2007. Frazier only has a handful of games under his belt as a head coach, but getting any wins out of the hapless Vikes this year should be a highlight on his resume. If he's not kept on in that position in Minnesota, he's another football mind that someone will reward with a head coaching position in the future.

This season the NFL has served notice on the kind of hard-hitting that made Buddy Ryan defenses succeed. But as the many seeds he's sown take root in coaching jobs around the league, his influence and his passion for defense will surely continue to grow.