When he shipped them off to college at Southwestern Oklahoma State, he urged them to study hotel management and food services; he didn't want them in the coaching grind. But each insisted, "Dad, I want to coach."
They begged him to show them the attacking defenses he was renowned for. So Buddy took them to a hotel in Weatherford, Okla., checked into a room, and set up an easel. He conducted a private clinic, "Went over the whole package." He found he didn't have much to teach them. "I was surprised at what they already knew," he said.
Buddy insisted they start at the dirt-ground level, and made a couple of calls. He placed Rex as a graduate assistant at division I-AA Eastern Kentucky under Roy Kidd, a renowned taskmaster who won 16 Ohio Valley Conference titles, and woke his players for 6 a.m. runs. Rex worked for nothing. Buddy says, "He did his ABCs."
If Buddy thought a taste of the grind would cure Rex, he was wrong. Rex loved it, the whole life. He got so excited calling blitzes, he would punch other staffers in the arm.
"Everything's a competition to him," says Keith Kidd, Roy's son, who is director of pro personnel for the Denver Broncos. "Coaches' kids are different . . . you live and die every Saturday, and you're so emotionally attached to it, because you learn the whole way of life, from the equipment trainers all the way up."
Ryan was an incurable gamer - so much so, that even on the morning of Keith's wedding, he dragged him outside for a game of Wiffle ball. The rest of the wedding party looked out the window in amazement at Ryan capering on the back lawn with a plastic bat and a little white ball.
Ryan wended his way to Division II New Mexico Highlands, then Morehead State, Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Kansas State. He finally got his big NFL break in 1999, when Billick heard him speak at a coaching clinic. Billick, like everyone, was carried away by his gusto.
Ryan was just a warmup act, and there were only a few people in the lecture hall to hear him. But he stood at the podium roaring and gesturing with fervor.
"There were about 10 people there, and you would have thought there were 100,000," Billick says. "He was clinic-ing up. He was passionate, knowledgeable. And I thought right then and there, boy, this is a guy you want on your staff."