Almost four weeks into his second regular season as New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator and two days away from visiting the Cowboys, Rob Ryan admitted Friday that he understood things couldn’t stay the same in Dallas when the organization fired him and other assistant coaches after an 8-8 season in 2012.
“Something needs to change when you’re 8-8,” said Ryan, who added that Cowboys owner/General Manager “Jerry Jones wants to win worse than (anyone) in football.”
But before wrapping up a brief conversation with a reporter after practice Friday, Ryan declared, “I just don’t think (Jones) always gets the best advice from people all the time.”
Ryan’s ill-fated tenure as defensive coordinator in Dallas in 2011 and 2012 was an inevitable topic this week as the Saints (1-2) prepare to drop in on the Cowboys (2-1) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday night. Jones dismissed Ryan after a pair of .500 seasons in which the Cowboys defense ranked 14th in 2011 and 19th in 2012.
Ryan lost five of his starters to major injuries the second year, leading some to think he would get a mulligan. But Jones instead replaced Ryan with Monte Kiffin.
Jones later explained that he valued Ryan as a coach but let him go because his defenses can “have a lot going on,” and Dallas aspired to have “less going on.”
“Whatever excuse people need to make about letting me go,” Ryan said Friday, “there’s a long line of them.”
The Saints hired Ryan for the 2013 season, and his defense surrendered the fourth-fewest yards and points in the NFL as New Orleans won 12 of 18 games to reach the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. One of their victories was a 49-17 shellacking of Dallas in New Orleans in which the Saints set a franchise record for yards (625) and established an NFL mark for first downs (40).
Meanwhile, Dallas allowed the most yards per game in the NFL (415.3) and went 8-8 for a third straight season. Dallas subsequently demoted Kiffin and promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator; this year, the Cowboys rank 22nd in the league in yards allowed per game (360.3).
The sledding for Ryan and his players in New Orleans has been tougher this year. They gave up the league’s second-most points (58) and third-most yards (869) in defeats on the road to Atlanta and Cleveland in Weeks 1 and 2 before doing much better in a 20-9 victory against Minnesota at home on Sept. 21.
As of Friday, the Saints were giving up the ninth-most yards per game (379.7) and were in a four-way tie for 10th in most points given up per contest (24.0). Ryan acknowledged he had worked with his players on simplifying what they were aiming to accomplish on defense, and he said he realized his unit must create more turnovers than the lone fumble they’ve recovered so far.
Nonetheless, Saints defensive lineman Akiem Hicks assured Friday that Ryan has him and his teammates on the correct track.
“Anybody that would give him up, I wouldn’t understand why,” Hicks said. “He’s an amazing defensive coordinator, and we believe in him here.”
For his part, Jones on his Dallas radio show Friday morning expressed confidence that Ryan would be a great head coach one day. Ryan’s reaction in New Orleans to that comment was, “Welp, I agree.”
He added that he remains friends with a number of current Cowboys players and coaches.