Bears

Buddy Ryan's unique path to Bears and the letter that kept him in Chicago to build Super Bowl defense

Buddy Ryan's unique path to Bears and the letter that kept him in Chicago to build Super Bowl defense

Legendary Bears defensive coach Buddy Ryan passed away at the age of 85 Tuesday.

Ryan was defensive line coach for the New York Jets under coach Weeb Ewbank and part of the staff that won Super Bowl III with Joe Namath. It was Ewbank’s obsession with protecting Namath that led Ryan to conclude that if keeping the quarterback from being hit was everything to an offense, then getting to the quarterback should therefore be the prime directive of the defense.
 
“If they ‘block’ [with] eight, I’ll rush nine,” Ryan once said. “Because I’m going to get him. If the most important thing is to protect the quarterback, then mine is to get the quarterback.”
 
Ryan broke into coaching in 1961 as the defensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills of the then-AFL. Fittingly perhaps, son Rex is the current Buffalo head coach (and other son Rob is the assistant head coach) and Ryan attended a Bills game last season. Ryan went to the Minnesota Vikings as defensive line coach in 1976, where he had a hand in the achievements of the “Purple People Eaters” (Carl Eller, Alan Page, Gary Larsen, Jim Marshall) before coming to the Bears as defensive coordinator on Neill Armstrong’s staff.
 
George Halas had a hand in hiring Ryan, a factor in 1982 when Halas fired Armstrong but retained Ryan after members of the defense signed a letter, written by Page, by then a member of the Bears, and Gary Fencik to Halas, imploring Halas to keep Ryan. Fencik, initially terrified that Halas would not take kindly to the player input, recalled later sidling over to the defensive coaches and reminding Ryan, “Buddy, now remember who wrote that letter for you.”
 
Ryan did remember, and in 2011 wrote a letter of his own to his players:
 
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

 
Ryan, the real center of ESPN’s “30 for 30” special last January on the 1985 Bears, clashed mightily with coach Mike Ditka, to the point of a fight in the shower room at halftime of the Bears’ loss to the Miami Dolphins in 1985. He remained with the Bears through the 1985 season and its historic finish in Super Bowl XX, then left to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He went on to coach the Arizona Cardinals, famously declaring, “You’ve got a winner in town” upon his hiring, and finished with a 55-55-1 record as a head coach.
 
While Ryan never again reached the victory pinnacle he and the Bears achieved in ’85, he was remembered just as well for many of the individual achievements his players managed because of his influence.
 
Dan Hampton first met Ryan on a trip to Halas Hall before the 1979 draft (in which the Bears made Hampton the fourth-overall pick). The two watched film together and Ryan told Hampton directly that he hoped the Bears would draft Hampton. When Hampton struggled badly in a game his rookie season against the New York Jets, Ryan looked straight at Hampton in a team meeting and said, “Big Rook, I expected you to always be one of those ‘core’ guys, to always be there and fight your [butt] off. You didn’t do nothin’ but embarrass yourself.”
 
Ryan had tears in his eyes, as did Hampton, who that night made a vow, “that never again would I let Buddy Ryan down,” Hampton said. 
 
When Ditka arrived from the Dallas Cowboys to become Bears coach in 1982, he told Ryan that he wanted the Bears to run the “flex” defense that Tom Landry operated in Dallas. Ryan flatly refused, declaring to his players, “He is the head coach. He has the right to run whatever defense he wants. Now, I won’t run it. I’m going to be down on my farm in Kentucky. But he can run whatever he wants.”
 
Ryan did finish his days on his farm in Kentucky, but he ran his “46” defense. Period.

Bears open as favorites in Week 7 vs. Saints

Bears open as favorites in Week 7 vs. Saints

The best thing that can happen to a team coming off of a disappointing loss like the Bears suffered in Week 5 to the Oakland Raiders is time away. Time to get back to basics, work on improving some deficiencies and, sometimes, just getting out of the national spotlight.

The Bears (3-2) will welcome the Saints (5-1) to Soldier Field in Week 7 in a game that would seem to favor New Orleans. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has excelled in relief of Drew Brees, who continues to rehab a thumb injury that will keep him out of Sunday's contest in Chicago. The Saints' defense has been fantastic as well and currently ranks 10th overall in yards allowed per game.

Chicago, meanwhile, is hoping for quarterback Mitch Trubisky's return from a left shoulder injury and is likely to be without Kyle Long (hip; injured reserve) and Akiem Hicks (elbow).

Logic would dictate that New Orleans will be a road favorite in this one, but that isn't the case. At least, not yet.

The Bears open the week as a 3.5-point favorite, which even when factoring the three-point edge home teams usually get still means the oddsmakers like Chicago to win the game outright.

Bears fans may still have the sour taste of defeat after the London letdown, but there are a lot of smart people in Las Vegas who obviously think the Bears have a chance (a really, really good chance) to win Sunday's NFC showdown.

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Mitch Trubisky working hard toward Week 7 return

Mitch Trubisky working hard toward Week 7 return

The Bears' bye week is over, which means it's time to get back to work and prepare for Week 7's matchup against the New Orleans Saints.

According to coach Matt Nagy, one player — quarterback Mitch Trubisky — didn't take any time off.

Speaking with Josh Liss of WBBM Newsradio Chicago on Monday, Nagy confirmed Trubisky spent his bye week strengthening his injured left shoulder.

"He was in here working out, every day he's trying to get that (shoulder) stronger and stronger, so that'll be the big question for us," Nagy said of Trubisky's status for Sunday. "We'll see how it goes here, really this whole week, but we're excited for him. We know every day helps us out to get him back, so we'll see where it ends up going."

Trubisky and the Bears passing offense will be the primary target for critics the rest of the way this season, especially after Week 6's marquee showdown between Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, the two quarterbacks GM Ryan Pace passed on to select the former North Carolina star.

Nagy said he and the rest of the coaching staff used the week off to sharpen their focus.

"It's always good to kind of reload and reflect on where you're at right now and I think we all got a chance to do that, so it's nice to get back in here and get after it."

The Bears will be without a key piece on offense in their attempt to get back to the playoffs in 2019. Nagy confirmed guard Kyle Long will be placed on injured reserve (hip). Long's struggles in 2019 have been well-documented and something had to give. Unfortunately, we now know it's Long's health that's failed him again. 

"That's where it's at and I want to credit him for battling through an injury and it is a tough loss," Nagy said of Long. "It's a part of the game, we understand that, he understands it and we just gotta keep plugging away."

It's quite possible Long has played his last game as a Chicago Bear.

One player who hasn't played his last game with the Bears is Akiem Hicks. But has he played his last game of 2019? Nagy wouldn't provide a timetable for his return, but don't expect the 2018 Pro Bowler to be back anytime soon.

"We're still working through all the logistics on that. It was a pretty good injury he got there. We're hoping that he's definitely able to return here by the season's end."

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