After spending the past few months engulfed in speculation about his future, Rob Ryan will likely remain the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints for at least one more season.
A league source told The Advocate that Ryan was “probably safe” for next season Wednesday morning, before a second source said in definitive terms the defensive coordinator will return next season.
The Saints finished 31st in total defense in 2014 after ranking in the top five the year before, Ryan’s first season in New Orleans. In his past two stops in Dallas and Cleveland, Ryan did not reach a third season.
This marks the end of a whirlwind month for Ryan. As the Saints continued to struggle throughout the season, reports began to emerge detailing a fracturing relationship between Ryan and coach Sean Payton. After a late November win in Pittsburgh over the Steelers, Payton shot down the “splash report” and came out in support of Ryan.
“It;s hard when you’re not winning in this league,” Payton said at the time. “I love what he’s doing. Are there times when we have to look at things? Are there times when I get involved? Absolutely, I’m the head coach. But he’s doing an outstanding job.”
His players also came out in strong support of Ryan as the season wore on and during their final interviews with the media after a season-ending win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But those in charge of determining Ryan’s fate were more guarded with their words.
During his final meeting with the media, Payton refused to offer a response when asked why he believes Ryan can turn things around next season. And when asked about Ryan’s future during a Tuesday news conference, General Manager Mickey Loomis declined to provide a direct answer.
“We’re in the very beginning of the evaluation process. And look, when we get our decisions completely made, we’ll make announcements at the appropriate time,” Loomis said.
There is still yet to be an official announcement, and the team declined to respond to several requests for comment. Still, it appears Ryan will be back and given the chance to turn things around.
The talking point among players during the defensive slide was that Ryan should not be held responsible for the errors made by players on the field. In other words, it wasn’t the schemes letting this team down. They said the problem was execution.
The numbers agree. The Saints, according to Pro Football Focus, missed 148 tackles this season, up from 77 in 2013.
The opposition’s passer rating climbed to 92.9 from 2013’s mark of 84.4. And likely related, the sacks dropped from 49 to 34 over the same span.
Asked earlier this season about some of the slippage on defense, Payton refused to put the blame on Ryan.
“Yeah, but that’s ‘we.’ It’s not any one individual,” Payton said. “It’s the Saints defense. Sean Payton is not getting the same results as he did last year, and every player on this team is not getting the same results … on defense.”
While some blame should fall on the coaches when players are not fitting the right run gaps or when the secondary fails to execute its assignments, some of that is also the responsibility of the players. But for now, it appears changes will be made within the lower ranks of the coaching staff, and the team will look to infuse the defense with more talent.
Those things should help. But Ryan will likely be kept on a short leash. He’ll be given the opportunity to turn things around next season, but he’ll enter the season coaching for his job — and perhaps his reputation.
Regarded by many as one of the brighter defensive minds in the NFL, Ryan has struggled to stick around at his previous stops.
And at times, his defenses have not performed up to expectations.
He was let go by Dallas (2011-2012) after two seasons amid cries that his schemes were too complex. He received two seasons in Cleveland (2009-2010) and was not retained after a coaching change. Ryan started his tenure as a defensive coordinator with the Oakland Raiders (2004-2009).
Skeptics will point out that Ryan’s defenses typically perform best in his first year with a team, and that only three of his defenses have finished in the top-10 in total defense. It should be noted, however, that Ryan has not coached many talented teams, and the teams he’s been associated with as a defensive coordinator have a combined 64-112 record.
He’ll now have the opportunity to buck the trend and push the Saints back to the top of the heap. But success will not likely be measured by whether or not he produces a defense that is capable of ranking among the top five units.
All he has to do is simply get better and lead a group that can no longer be considered a liability.