The man who led the greatest defense in NFL history, Buddy Ryan, died Tuesday at the age of 82.
Ryan coached in the NFL over four decades and was the defensive coordinator for the Bears' defense when Chicago won its only Super Bowl following the 1985 season. Ryan was famously carried off the field by the players in celebration of the win.
The defensive mastermind's coaching career began in 1961 as a defensive line coach for the Bills, where he spent five years. Ryan coached the Jets' defensive line when they won Super Bowl III.
Ryan then helped coach the famous "Purple People Eaters" Vikings defense, running their D-line from 1976-77 before beginning his eight-year stint with the Bears.
In the recent ESPN '30 for 30' documentary on the 1985 Bears, Ryan wrote a letter to the Bears that helped save his job in 1981, and to players they could have kept winning had Ryan stayed after 1985.
"To my guys,
In 1981, many of you signed a letter to George Halas that saved my job. Now I’m writing a letter to all of you to say thanks. I wish I could be there to say it in person, but this will have to do.
Thank you to the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears, the greatest team in NFL history. You gave me the best memories of my coaching life.
I’ll love every one of you until the day I die. I told you this a long time ago, and it’s still true.
You guys will always be my heroes.
Coach Buddy Ryan, 46"
Bears chairman George McCaskey released the following statement:
“Buddy Ryan was the architect of the greatest defense our league has seen. He was brilliant when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game, but what made him special was his ability to create an unwavering confidence in the players he coached. From the day he was hired in 1978, his defenses bought into more than the scheme, they bought into him and took on his personality. Buddy was brash, intelligent and tough. He was a perfect match for our city and team, which is why George Halas took the extraordinary step of keeping him at the behest of his defensive players while transitioning to a new coaching staff in 1982. We will always be grateful for Buddy’s contribution to the Bears. He is one of the team’s all-time greats. Our prayers are with his family.”
Ryan's head-coaching career began following the Super Bowl title, when he coached the Eagles for five seasons. Philadelphia had double-digit wins in Ryan's final three seasons there from 1988-1990, making the playoffs each year.
After a year as the Oilers' defensive coordinator in 1993, Ryan had his final stop in his coaching career as the head coach of the Cardinals from 1994-95.
Buddy Ryan is survived by his sons, NFL coaches Rex and Rob.