Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- The Saints defensive coach Rob Ryan hands out a flower during the Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day Parade in Uptown New Orleans, La. Saturday, March 15, 2014.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The reasons New Orleans Saints fans love defensive coordinator Rob Ryan are obvious.
He took a Saints defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history in 2012 and coached it to a No. 4 overall ranking in 2013, a season that culminated with New Orleans' first-ever true road playoff victory.
Then, the St. Patrick's Day parade in the Irish Channel came around, and Ryan marched around in a tuxedo with his shirt un-tucked, a beer in his hand, a cigar in his mouth and oversized green beads around his neck, stopping every few steps to take a photo with countless men, women and children who pleaded to get in the same frame as his renowned silver mane.
On Tuesday, his twin Rex, the coach of the New York Jets, took a moment away from the action at the annual NFL owners meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes hotel to explain why Rob loves the Crescent City back just as much and just as fervently.
"The fans there appreciate him not just for his looks, but for his passion, his work ethic, ... and he feels great about it," Rex Ryan said. "They let him be him. It's a town that's embraced him, and he's embraced that community, and it's great both ways there."
Saints mourn the late Ralph Wilson
Shortly after news broke that Bills owner Ralph Wilson died at the age of 95 on Tuesday, new Saints safety Jairus Byrd wrote via Twitter, "R.I.P mr. Wilson... Thank you doesn't describe how truly grateful I am for the opportunity you gave me to play a game I love."
Buffalo selected Byrd in the second round of the 2009 draft. After picking off 22 passes in his time with the Bills, the most among NFL safeties since he entered the league, he hit unrestricted free agency on March 11 and soon signed with New Orleans on a six-year, $54 million contract guaranteeing him $28 million.
Saints owner Tom Benson added in a statement: “The National Football League lost one of its visionaries today in Ralph Wilson Jr. The thoughts and prayers of my family and the Saints organization go out to his wife Mary and the rest of the Wilson family.
"Personally to me, Ralph was a valued friend and colleague since I first entered the National Football League in 1985. Professionally, Ralph contributed so many things to the sport and the league we love. His vision and leadership first became evident when he founded the Bills and helped lead the merger of the AFL and the NFL. He continued throughout his ownership to foster the growth of our game and our league and all of us who have benefitted in this game owe Ralph Wilson Jr. a debt of gratitude today.”
Co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc said:
“Ralph Wilson Jr. was a passionate believer in the NFL and the integrity of the shield. The vision, drive and dedication Mr. Wilson embodied made him a living legend and I feel privileged to have known him. My heart and prayers go out to his wife Mary Wilson, his daughters and his niece Mary Owen as they continue his legacy and his compassion through football, philanthropy and community.”