If you expected Rob Ryan to need a dump truck to unload all the dirt accumulated as the Raiders defensive coordinator through five years, four head coaches and a certain owner with well-documented philosophies of how to attack an offense, you’ve misjudged the man.
The Browns defensive coordinator had nothing but good things to day about this days with the Raiders and working under Al Davis while talking to reporters in Cleveland. He noted the Raiders were “playing a different scheme” under John Marshall but at the same time refuted the notion that his own hands were tied by Davis.
Former coach Lane Kiffin, who unsuccessfully tried to have Ryan fired, only to be overruled by Davis, said the owner was “heavily involved” in defense to the point where he talked weekly with Ryan about game plans.
Kiffin said these things following the season opener, as he was setting fire to every bridge between himself and the head coaching job and waiting to be set free.
“That’s the biggest misconception there is,” Ryan said. “Not at all. Not at all until after the season.”
As for working for the Raiders, Ryan said, “That was llike a dream come true for me. Me and my brother always dreamed about being the bad guy and coaching for the Raiders. I learned a ton of football from Mr. Davis. It was a great experience. We didn’t win. It didn’t work out when I was there five years. I know a lot has been written about our defense but we were No. 3 in defense one year.”
The Raiders were indeed No. 3 overall in 2006, a season in which they finished 2-14. Ryan always bristled at the notion that the yardage figure of 284.8 was helped by the fact that opponents spent a lot of time killing the clock because they knew the Raiders couldn’t score on offense. In the other four years, the Raiders ranked 27th in 2008, 22nd in 2007, 27th in 2005 and 30th in 2004.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha credited Ryan with bolstering his confidence during a difficult transition from safety to cornerback. Ryan in turn had plenty to say about Asomugha.
“He just made himself a great player through his work ethic and studying tape,” Ryan said. The guy’s special. Truly is unbelievable. You hope and dream about getting these shutdown corners. They’re hard to find. His coach, Willie Brown, has helped him a lot. It’s fun when he’s on your sideline.”
Ryan marveled at Asomugha’s breakout season in 2006 when he intercepted eight passes.
“It’s hard to get interceptions in man coverage,” Ryan said. You’ve got to be able to get you eyes back and play the ball. I saw him just do some unbelievable things. Antonio Gates couldn’t do a thing with him. Nnamdi took two away from him.”
Ryan is still occasionally prone to exaggerating to make a point. Asomugha has only one career interception against the Chargers, and according to the NFL game book in 2006, the intended receiver was Vincent Jackson, not Gates.
Browns coach Eric Mangini worked with Ryan in New England under Bill Belichick and thinks his blustery, gregarious and enthusiastic nature serves its purpose, especially since the head coach is most often measured and calculating.
“The one thing that Rob is is passionate, he’s creative, he’s smart. I think you guys can appreciate he’s pretty funny too,” Mangini told Bay Area reporters by conference call. “It’s a good counterbalance for my personality. It’s a good team and there have been a lot of variables and there have been a lot of moving parts. He’s done well and I think we’ll continue to improve and continue to grow.”
Both Mangini and Ryan are in essence auditioning for their jobs after just 14 games with new exec Mike Holmgren arriving to remake the franchise.
“To be honest, I never thought about that,” Ryan said. “I was thinking of the Raiders. I know he’s a good football man, so I’m anxious to meet him and see what happens.”
More Ryan observations:
— “We played Charlie Frye when he was in Cleveland and I was in Oakland. This guy runs like crazy. He makes a ton of plays with his feet. It looks like he’s a good competitor. I remember him at the Senior Bowl. He was on our team. I was impressed with the way he handled himself.”
— “The backup QB (Russell) is the one I thought would be a superstar by now. He had that 77 rating his rookie year. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t become the superstar. I’m kind of hoping he doesn’t get in the game. That kid can throw it through a storm. I think the young man’s a good kid.”
— “Obviously you want to do well in front of your old team. So I guess that’s on my mind. My mind is to win our third game in a row, whatever it takes.”
More to come . . .