Notable Deaths ›

Buddy Ryan (1934 - 2016)

Getty Images / Kidwiler Collection / Contributor

Buddy Ryan (1934 - 2016)

James David "Buddy" Ryan, who coached NFL teams including the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears, died June 28 after a long battle with cancer, according to his agent. He was 82.

Ryan was the defensive coordinator for the Bears during their 1985 Super Bowl-winning season, and it was, in part, his 46 defense formation that got them there. He had been with the Bears since 1978, and despite clashes with head coach Mike Ditka, Ryan was beloved by the team as he built the defensive strategy that would propel them to victory.

Ryan's 46 defense was an innovation to the game, an eight men in the box defense designed to confuse the opposing offense. Ryan discussed it in a 1986 interview with NFL Films: "To stop a passing game, you can't stop it unless you put pressure on it. Now some people are good enough to put it on with a three-man rush; well, we're not. In fact, I don't know whether we're good enough to put it on with a four-man rush. If we have to send eight, we'll send eight, but we're not going to let you sit back there and pick us apart all day."

It was a strategy that helped the Bears dominate the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, and the team carried Ryan off the field on their shoulders, right behind Ditka – the first time two coaches had ever been carried off the field following a Super Bowl.

Prior to joining the Bears, Ryan had been strictly a defensive line coach – for the Buffalo Bulls in the NCAA as well as the NFL's New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. His early years in defense yielded popular strategies including the Cheeseburger Blitz and the Taco Bell Blitz, and he was behind the Vikings' famous Purple People Eaters defensive line of the 1970s. The Jets and the Vikings both went to the Super Bowl during Ryan's tenures, with the Jets winning Super Bowl III.

Ryan's years with the Bears propelled him to new heights, giving him celebrity status and putting him in line for a promotion to head coach. That wouldn't happen with the Bears, but with the Eagles, who hired him on the heels of the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl victory. He would start with the Eagles in 1986, quickly becoming a hometown favorite as he built a successful team.

After remaining with the Eagles through 1990, Ryan left coaching for a few years to become a commentator, but he was back in 1993 as defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers. He moved on to the Arizona Cardinals after a season, becoming their head coach. He retired after two seasons with the Cardinals. In retirement, Ryan bred racehorses at a farm in Kentucky.


Click to get weekly celebrity death news delivered to your inbox.


Born Feb. 17, 1934, in Frederick, Oklahoma, Ryan played college football from 1952-1955 for Oklahoma A&M University, now Oklahoma State, earning four letters as a guard. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War before beginning his coaching career.

Ryan's coaching legacy continues through his twin sons, Rex and Rob Ryan, both of whom are NFL coaches for the Buffalo Bills: Rex is head coach and Rob is assistant head coach of defense. Ryan is also survived by his son, Jim, and was predeceased by his wife, Joanie, in 2013.

Ditka was among the NFL icons who remembered Ryan upon his death, saying, "Buddy was such an integral part of the Chicago Bears and the '85 Bears, it was unbelievable. There's no way we win anything without that defense, without his coaching and I think everybody understands that. We won because of our defense, we can never forget that. That's just the way it was."

We invite you to share condolences for Buddy Ryan in our Guest Book.