METAIRIE, La. — Saints coach Sean Payton has chosen Rob Ryan as his new defensive coordinator, hoping New Orleans can overhaul a unit that was historically bad last season.
"We have experience in preparing and playing against his defenses and they've always been challenging in terms of the different looks and pressures that they feature," Payton said when Ryan's hiring was announced Saturday, one day after he interviewed for the job. "We've had the chance to visit with each other and talk about our visions for our team and I'm excited about moving forward as we prepare for the 2013 season."
In 2010, Ryan was Cleveland's defensive coordinator when the Browns beat the Saints in the Superdome 30-17, intercepting passes by Drew Brees four times. One of those interceptions was made by linebacker Scott Fujita, who had been a captain of New Orleans' defense a season earlier and had helped Ryan prepare and execute the game plan against the Saints.
"Stan is a veteran coach that understands all nuances of the special teams game," Payton said. "He has a wealth of knowledge and I believe he will be a good fit."
Just days after returning from his season-long suspension in connection with the NFL's investigation of the Saints' cash-for-hits bounty program, Payton fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and said he would switch New Orleans' defensive scheme from a 4-3 alignment (four down linemen, three linebackers) to a 3-4. The Saints yielded 7,042 yards last season, the worst single-season total in NFL history.
Ryan has run 3-4 schemes for years. He worked as a linebacker coach in such defenses in New England, where he was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. He then spent five seasons as defensive coordinator in Oakland (2004-2008), followed by two seasons in Cleveland before moving to Dallas in 2011.
Now the 50-year-old Ryan takes his fourth defensive coordinator job since 2004 while becoming Payton's fourth defensive coordinator since 2006.
"I have had the opportunity to get to know Sean Payton and his staff a bit better recently and I am excited about joining the team," Ryan said in a statement provided by the Saints. "I'm ready to get to work on all facets of the game. This is a great opportunity and we're getting started right away."
When Payton took over as head coach in 2006, New Orleans had a 4-3 scheme overseen by Gary Gibbs, who was fired after the 2008 season. In 2009, Payton brought in Gregg Williams, whose hybrid scheme used a 4-3 base alignment but switched to a 3-4 in certain situations, usually on passing downs in order to help disguise which player might be blitzing.
Williams left after the 2011 season, and months later was suspended along with Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in connection with the league's bounty probe.
The NFL said Williams ran the bounty pool and gave him an indefinite suspension. He was reinstated this past week and hired as a top defensive coach by Tennessee.
Williams has long proclaimed himself a disciple of Buddy Ryan, who was the defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears in 1985 and later served as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
Williams often spoke of wanting his defenses to be "nasty" and used mottos like "defenses are respected when they're feared."
Now, a little more than a year after letting go of Williams, Payton has brought in the son of Williams' mentor.
Rob Ryan got his start in the NFL on his father's Arizona staff in 1994. He later spent three seasons as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before returning to the NFL with New England, under Bill Belichick, in 2000.