PHOENIX - Rex Ryan said he was surprised that he never heard from the Bears when he was on the market as an available head coach and they had an opening. Considering his family history there - his father, Buddy Ryan, was the adored defensive coordinator who helped bring the team its only Super Bowl victory - it seemed like a natural fit.
"I must have done a bad job as a ballboy for them," he said. "It made sense to me."
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Ultimately, Ryan landed in Buffalo as head coach of the Bills.
"I figured something good would happen, but I really wasn't sure," he said of his disposition after being fired by the Jets. "I knew that I wasn't going to be a coordinator. I said 'You know what, I'm either going to be a head coach or I'll find some other place.' That might have seemed strange to some at the time, but not to me. I knew I could coach, I think I'm a decent head coach, but obviously the record [4-12 in 2014] was an abysmal record that year. I was hopeful I'd get another opportunity."
With TV networks waiting in the wings, Ryan said he wasn't going to jump at the first offer he received from a team.
"I think that's what you learn as a second-time head coach, you learn that you might not just jump at the first thing," he said. "Trust me, I'm not saying it was a bad decision to go to the Jets because it wasn't. And I understand why people would rush in. Quite honestly if I had a job offer in Alaska I would have jumped in, or wherever. But I think now, it had to be right because this is my last shot and I wanted it to be the right spot."
There seem to be a lot of similarities between the 2009 Jets and the 2015 Bills, starting with a question at quarterback. The Bills have four players who will compete for the job, with Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel as the main event on the fight card. But, Ryan said, there are differences.
"This is an established defense that I'm taking over," he said. "That's the big difference. When I took over that team in '09, I think we let eight defensive players go and we replaced them with Jim Leonhard, Bart Scott, Marques Douglas, those guys came in. We traded for Lito Sheppard. It was a different thing. But we had to establish our defense, we had to do a complete makeover of that defense. That was different."
He said that the 2009 Jets' offensive line was a strength of that team, and he is not sure whether the Bills' unit is at that level yet.
What Ryan considered to be his perfect landing spot probably would not have been available had Doug Marrone not exercised an option in his contract and left the team. It was actually Ryan who reached out to the Bills through his agent, he revealed, to gauge their interest in him. What would have happened if Marrone had stayed? Would Ryan be an NFL head coach, or one of the most coveted analysts on television?
"I would have gotten offers [as a head coach]," he said confidently. "I don't know if I would have taken them, but I would have gotten offers."