Legendary Chicago Bears Coach Buddy Ryan Dies at 82

Sep 13, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Former NFL coach Buddy Ryan on the sideline before the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Indianapolis Colts at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buddy
Sep 13, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Former NFL coach Buddy Ryan on the sideline before the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Indianapolis Colts at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buddy /

The architect of the 1985  Chicago Bears defense, Buddy Ryan, has died at 82.

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The Chicago Bears have lost a legend within their family. Buddy Ryan, the man behind the 1985 Chicago Bears defense, perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history, has died at 82. Ryan’s health had been in steady decline in recent years after suffering a massive stroke coupled with battling cancer simultaneously.

While Ryan is best known as the defensive coordinator of the 1985 Bears, his coaching career spanned 35 years and he made an impact wherever he coached. Ryan’s career began in 1957 where he coached a few seasons of high school football in Texas. He was hired in 1961 as the defensive line coach at the University of Buffalo. Ryan quickly garnered attention and was hired by the New York Jets as their defensive line coach in 1968 where he helped establish a very good defense and helped pull off one of the great upsets in the history of sports in Super Bowl III when the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts.  Ryan then moved on as a defensive coach with the Minnesota Vikings for two seasons where he helped the Purple People Eaters dominate offenses before he finally was hired by George Halas to be the Bears defensive coordinator in 1978.

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Ryan’s impact was immediately felt on the defense. The Bears defense was ranked 19th in 1977 and climbed the 9th in 1978 and 3rd in 1979. Ryan’s defense was routinely ranked in the top five and was ranked first in 1985. Ryan’s 46 defense gained national attention and for good reason. The Bears defense led the league in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed, fewest first downs, most turnovers forced, and were first against the run in every major category. The 1984 Bears defense tallied an NFL-record 72 sacks and the ’85 team followed that up with 64. To put those numbers in perspective, the vaunted Denver Broncos defense from 2015 led the league with 52 sacks, 20 shy of the Bears’ record. The Bears defense last season tallied just 35 sacks.

The Bears’ defense put a stamp on their greatness during a historic playoff run where they shut out the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams and only gave up 10 points to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX (giving up a garbage time touchdown when the score was 44-3). The 3 points the Bears gave up in 11 postseason quarters has never even been approached by an NFL team. The defense gave up 434 yards of defense total in those three games. The Bears offense tallied 408 yards in the Super Bowl alone.

Ryan left to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1986 and his career never quite reached that pinnacle again. Ryan spent seven seasons as an NFL head coach, five with Philadelphia and two later with the Arizona Cardinals. Ryan’s career head coaching record was just 55-55-1. His career was known for more negatives than positives after he left Chicago.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry accused Ryan of running up the score in 1987 and Jimmy Johnson accused Ryan of putting a bounty on his star players in 1989. Ryan also caught heat for cutting future hall of famer Cris Carter in 1989 stating, “All he does is catch touchdowns.” Later it was discovered that Ryan was covering for Carter as he was actually released for his alcohol and drug abuse. In between Ryan’s head coaching stints, he was the defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers in 1993. In a game against the New York Jets, Ryan got into an altercation with offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride where he famously threw a punch in Gilbride’s direction.

That combativeness was one of the reasons Ryan never quite saw eye-to-eye with Bears head coach Mike Ditka, their feuds have become legendary in Chicago circles. Regardless of the ups and downs of Ryan’s career, nobody will ever take away the success he had with the Chicago Bears in the early to mid-80s. The 1985 Chicago Bears defense will live on forever. Every great baseball team is still compared to the 1927 New York Yankees almost 90 years later. The ’85 Bears had the same impact on NFL defenses and they are the gold standard that all future defenses are measured against.

Ryan’s name will never be mentioned with the names Vince Lombardi, George Halas, or Bill Belichick because his success as an NFL head coach never amounted to much, but his impact as a defensive coach cannot be underestimated. The Chicago Bears, and the entire NFL, lost a legend today.

Bill Zimmerman is an editor and featured writer for FanSided‘s BearGogglesOn. Like his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter for more news and interaction.