Of course Buddy Ryan should have been fired. He promised, he guaranteed that he would take the Eagles to a Super Bowl in five years and he didn't. He didn't take the Eagles to the conference championship game, he didn't take them to the second round. With the single greatest weapon in football and maybe the league's best defensive line, his Eagles couldn't win a playoff game in three tries.
It ain't bragging if you can do it, but it's a fireable offense if you can't. Buddy and his Eagles could talk big but not win big. Early in the season, in all seriousness, Buddy Ryan asked rhetorically, "Who's done a better job than me?"
Answer: Who hasn't? Joe Gibbs was hired in 1981, he won a Super Bowl in 1982. Mike Ditka was hired in 1982, he won a Super Bowl in 1985. Bill Parcells was hired in 1983, he won a Super Bowl in 1986. Dan Reeves was hired in 1981, he's been to the Super Bowl three times, beginning in 1986. Sam Wyche was hired in 1984, he went to the Super Bowl in 1988. John Robinson was hired in 1983, he went to the NFC championship game in 1985 and 1989. Chuck Knox, hired in 1983, went to the AFC championship game that year. Marty Schottenheimer, hired in '84, twice made the AFC championship game. Marv Levy, hired in '86, has been to the AFC championship game. Jerry Burns, for crying out loud, was in the NFC championship game in 1987, one year after he was hired.
There's a handful of coaches, including Jerry Glanville and Jim Mora, who have done just as well as Ryan; even Glanville has won a playoff game. There are people such as Chuck Noll and Don Shula who shouldn't be insulted by being compared to Buddy Ryan. And there are a few coaches such as Jimmy Johnson and Art Shell who are too new to judge, even though both appear to be headed in the right direction. What we do know, if playoff advancement is a measuring stick -- and it should be -- is that at least 10 coaches have done a better job than Buddy Ryan. And that doesn't even count George Seifert, who inherited a Super Bowl champion.
In all, at least 40 percent of the coaches in the league did a better job than Ryan. If you're the owner in a competitive league, and a guy who keeps telling you how great he is can't beat the Rams or the Redskins at home in the playoffs, wouldn't you fire him?
The funny thing now is how so many Eagles are rushing to Buddy's defense. He inspired the same kind of loyalty among his defensive players in Chicago, by convincing the players he was closer to them than to anybody in management. He thumbed his nose at his immediate superior, whether it was Mike Ditka or Norman Braman. He said he gave "scab rings" to the personnel men for assembling the '87 strike team that lost three games, largely because Ryan didn't care to coach them. Oh yes, the players loved him, but for all the wrong reasons. They loved him because he allowed Randall Cunningham, Keith Jackson, Keith Byars and Todd Bell to leave Veterans Stadium at halftime of a preseason game in 1989 to attend Whitney Houston's birthday party.
After winning five straight games to get control of a playoff spot, the Eagles reportedly celebrated so deep into the week they fell desperately behind at Buffalo before they even realized it was Sunday. "They're the only team in the league," one player said, "that can lose two games, win one and act as if they've got the world by the tail."
Keith Jackson, angered by Buddy's firing, says he'll make trouble until he's traded or put on the Plan B list. Where was all this blind emotion Saturday against the Redskins? Why weren't the Eagles flying around, making hits and tackles as they'd done weeks earlier in the Monday night game? Instead of fighting desperately, frantically late in the playoff game, the Eagles went into the tank, just as ex-Eagles coach Dick Vermeil said during the broadcast.
Buddy went with them when he benched Cunningham in favor of Jim McMahon, the equivalent of a Lakers coach saying, "We're losing, let's get Magic out of there for a few plays and see if Larry Drew can get something started." When it came time for Buddy to reciprocate some of that loyalty, he turned his back on Cunningham and undermined the whole offense with one utterly stupid move.
As it turns out, not all of the players were that loyal. Ryan "built up every area except the offensive line. We had some good talent, but he never left the same group on the field long enough to develop any continuity," tackle Ron Solt said on a Philly radio station yesterday. "People said Buddy was a players' coach, and he was, to a certain number of players. But not to everybody. He shuffled offensive linemen around so much, it was ridiculous."
Buddy Ryan is not a bad coach. As an assistant, when he doesn't have to take responsibility for his actions or the bottom line, he was one of the best on the defensive side of the ball. Indeed, he turned the Eagles around. But at this point, when the Eagles ought to win big, when there's probably nothing missing but responsible field leadership, when Ryan has failed on three occasions -- twice at home -- to put up, it was time to shut him up.