- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan arguably had the best performance of any assistant coach in the NFL this season, leading the Saints’ remarkable turnaround from the No. 32-ranked defense in 2012 to No. 4 in 2013. But so far, there has been no indication of any teams approaching Ryan for this year’s head-coaching vacancies.
That’s not too surprising, since Ryan had just been fired a year ago as the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator and admittedly needed to rehab his coaching reputation a little bit coming into this season. Also, Ryan’s renegade personality might play a part in how teams view him as a head-coaching candidate. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said on “NFL Insiders” Monday that he has even heard from multiple executives that Ryan’s long hair is a drawback.
But I think all of those qualms can and will be overlooked if Ryan has another season like he did in 2013.
It wasn’t just the results on the field that stood out with Ryan. It was the way he was so embraced by his players -- who raved about the way he made the game “fun,” while also putting them in the best positions to succeed.
And Ryan was equally appreciated by head coach Sean Payton and the rest of the staff and front office. Ryan remained colorful and witty in his weekly news conferences, but his personality was always a plus, never a distraction.
“Obviously he’s a coach that I think is going to be a head coach,” Payton said after the Saints’ season-ending loss at Seattle on Saturday -- something Payton has mentioned a few times in recent weeks. “Obviously we made great improvements from a year ago. He brings an enthusiasm with him, a personality that is contagious. You know, he’s a great staff person as well, gets along with the coaches. ...
“Shoot, the first year, it was a very important hire for us, an important piece of what we’re trying to do. And he’s extremely passionate about the game.”
Safety Malcolm Jenkins agreed that Ryan should be considered head-coaching material from a player’s point of view.
“I think so. Why not? I think what he has done with our defense is obviously monumental and is obviously big on his resume,” Jenkins said. “He’s obviously a motivator of men, and that’s the first thing you need. But I’m not hiring, so that’s up to somebody else.”