Buddy Ryan moves a little slower now, and he no longer seems as irascible as he was 20 years ago, when he prowled the sidelines as the defensive mastermind of the Chicago Bears.
On this particular August day, he stands on the football field inside the Baltimore Ravens' training facility and blends in with the rest of the coaches. But the defensive players seek him out; linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Deion Sanders, who have 15 Pro Bowl appearances between them, come over to greet him with hugs and handshakes and bows.
Ryan, who left coaching 10 years ago, is there to spend time with Baltimore's defensive coordinator, his son Rex. The following week, he will travel to another training camp to visit Rex's twin brother, Rob, the defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders.
The father's place in football history as a defensive genius is set, thanks to his innovative 46 defense that the Bears used to dominate the NFL in 1985 en route to a Super Bowl win. Now the twins are trying to add to that legacy. "You're a product of your environment," Rex said. "I've been fortunate to grow up under my dad, and so there's a lot of things you're going to take away from him. You don't sit back and say, 'Well dad did this or whatever.' It just comes to you."
Ryan, 74, never wanted his sons -- Jim, Rex and Rob -- to follow him into coaching. The lifestyle was tough, and there were too many sacrifices. Only Jim, 48, the oldest by six years, listened. He got a journalism degree, an MBA and a law degree and is a lawyer in St. Louis.
But there was no doubt what Rex and Rob were going to do. They, like their older brother, served as ballboys for their father's teams, and they grew up around legendary coaches such as Weeb Ewbank and Bud Grant. Rex used to sit in his high school English class and draw up plays on notebook paper, and he saw how his father loved going to work every day, how he loved the game-planning and the camaraderie of football.
"With my dad, for all the pressure he'd have on him, he never brought the pressure home with him," Jim said. "He was like the granddad who, at the end of the day, would sit in a chair with his pipe and draw X's and O's. Rex is like that."
The twins played football together at Southwestern Oklahoma State, and as they reached the end of their college careers, their father encouraged them to go into the management program of the food services corporation they had worked for during the summer. Ryan soon realized Rex and Rob had other ideas.
Shortly before his sons' graduation, Ryan brought them to a hotel room, and he revealed everything about the 46 defense, which bunches 10 defenders on or near the line of scrimmage to maximize pressure on the quarterback. They spent two days in that room, going over the principles of the scheme Buddy created several years earlier for the Bears. They took turns at the easel; Buddy would explain something, and then the twins would teach it back to him.
"I think that was when dad first realized how serious my twin brother and myself were of learning the business," said Rex, who is older by five minutes. "I think he realized then that we knew a lot more about football than he had thought."
Rob declined to comment for this story; when reached at his Raiders' office, he said he is not supposed to talk to reporters. "They're great guys," he said of his father and brother before hanging up the phone.
Buddy, who was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles at the time, wouldn't hire them. He told them if they wanted to coach, then they should find a graduate assistant job somewhere, start at the bottom, and work their way up.
Rex hooked on with Eastern Kentucky and Rob went to Western Kentucky. Over the next seven years, they bounced around: Rob went to Ohio State and Tennessee State, Rex to New Mexico Highlands and Morehead State.
"We probably learned the ins and outs of [the 46 defense] in two days, but it took about 10 years to really put it into action," Rex said. "I once heard an old coach talking in general terms about how you can't buy experience; he was telling some young coach that. I was standing there and thought that didn't apply to me because I'm Rex Ryan, son of Buddy Ryan. But it did apply to me.
"On paper, I can whip anybody with the pencil because I knew that system. But I needed those other years to really apply the craft."
When Buddy was hired to coach the Arizona Cardinals in 1994 he brought along his sons, Rob as the defensive backs coach and Rex as the defensive line coach. Rex later switched to linebackers coach. Buddy wasn't totally surprised by the cries of nepotism; after all, neither son had any pro coaching experience.
The criticism subsided when the Cardinals went 8-8 with the third-ranked defense in the NFL in 1994. It doubled the following year when Arizona stumbled to a 4-12 record and the defense fell to 26th in the league and last against the run. Rex and Rob were fired on the day after Christmas 1995, along with their father and the rest of the Arizona coaching staff. There were plenty of times when being the son of Buddy Ryan looked good on a resume; this was not one of them.
"That's what's funny," Rex said. "My brother and I had to go back, take a step back into college football because nobody would've taken us. We were just Buddy Ryan's sons. They can't coach; just look at Arizona that last year."
Buddy Ryan hasn't coached since he was fired by the Cardinals and he says he has no desire to return to football. He spends his time breeding horses outside Louisville and says his goal is to have a Derby winner. He has 17 horses, including a handful of broodmares, and some are named for his football past: Fired For Winning (which refers to his five-year tenure as the Eagles' head coach, when he went 43-38-1) and 46 Blitz.
"The thing I had to adjust to when I was training [horses] was the help," Buddy said. "I was used to telling people what to do, and they'd do it immediately. You said be there at eight in the morning, they were at eight in the morning. In real life, you don't have that structure. . . . You tell people to be there at 5 o'clock in the morning, and they don't show up for three or four hours. I told my wife, 'I'm going to have to get out of this, or I'm going to end up killing somebody.' "
Buddy and his second wife, Joanie, bought a 176-acre farm in Lawrenceburg, Ky., in 1976, and when the NFL shut down for its summer break, Buddy and his family went there. He sold the Lawrenceburg farm earlier this year, and bought two smaller properties in Shelbyville, 30 miles east of Louisville. He lives not far from where Joanie, who has Alzheimer's disease, resides in an assisted living facility.
Buddy spends every morning at the farm. The man remembered for punching fellow Houston Oilers assistant Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines during a game on Jan. 2, 1994 is mellow and charming; he is a regular at the local Waffle House, where he's greeted by name ("Mr. Ryan"), and his eggs, bacon, tomatoes and coffee appear within minutes of his arrival.
He doesn't go to many sporting events, though he went to a Temple-Louisville basketball game a few years back at the request of his friend, Owls Coach John Chaney. He prefers to watch the games and events he truly cares about on television. Buddy gets DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket, so he can watch Rex's Ravens play the early game and then switch to Rob's Raiders later. When the Ravens and Raiders are on at the same time, Buddy will flip between the games, watching whoever is on defense, of course. And when his sons' teams play each other, as they have several times over the years?
"I just hope it's a 3-0 game," Buddy said.
Buddy Ryan wasn't in the stands in Stillwater, Okla., when Rob and Rex stood on opposite sidelines as defensive coordinators, Rob for Oklahoma State and Rex for Oklahoma, in 1998. (Rob's Cowboys won, 41-26.) The twins had returned to college football two years earlier, after being fired in Arizona.
Rex was the first to move back to the NFL. When Brian Billick was hired as the Ravens' coach in 1999, he brought in Rex to coach the defensive line. Billick first met Rex at a football clinic in Toronto; he was scheduled to speak after Rex, who gave an impassioned talk on the 46 defense.
"The players love his passion, they love his dedication," Billick said. "Rex grew up in this game, in as passionate a football home, a la Buddy and his brothers, as you could possibly imagine. Talking, arguing, fighting over football every night at dinner. He brings that passion with him, and the players respond to that."
Rob returned to the NFL a year later, as the linebackers coach for the New England Patriots. Rex won one Super Bowl ring (2000) and Rob won two (2001 and 2003). Their father won championships as a New York Jets assistant in 1968 and as the Bears defensive coordinator in 1985. When Oakland's defensive coordinator position opened following the 2003 season, the Raiders asked the Ravens for permission to interview Rex; the request was denied. The job ultimately went to Rob.
Just like their father, Rex and Rob are confident and emotional, and they are blunt and honest. Buddy says he's been told Rex is more like him, but Jim thinks Rob is more similar to their father.
"Being politically astute was never dad's strength," Jim said. "Rex is more politically astute than dad."
Rex inherited his father's gift for motivating players, although he does it in a slightly different manner. The Ravens' defensive players talk about how much they like Rex as a person, how much they enjoy his sense of humor. Buddy, at times, used fear.
"Part of the motivation by fear had to do with Monday in the meeting room," said Titans Coach Jeff Fisher, who played for Buddy in Chicago. "Nobody wanted to sit in the meeting room with Buddy on Mondays."
One of Rex's favorite sayings is one he picked up from Buddy: "It's not the position of the players on the field that's important, it's the disposition." He, like his father, wants tough, smart players, regardless of whether they have the ideal height or weight or 40-yard dash time. He has implemented some of the 46 schemes learned from his father.
"I know subconsciously how my dad would attack certain offenses, all that kind of stuff," Rex said. "Dad was an unbelievable coach. Dad was stubborn, though, to a fault at times. That's also what made him so good, the fact that he believed a certain way so strongly. I think I'm like that to some degree, but Brian's there quick to remind me that that's not always the way it is. That's good."