Eagles Wake-Up Call: Time For A Return To the Old School

Jim Schwartz. (USA Today)

Jim Schwartz. (USA Today)

Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan didn’t always see eye-to-eye during their time together in Chicago, but on the day of Ryan’s passing, Ditka let it be known just how vital his old defensive coordinator was to that ’85 championship team.

“There’s no way the Bears win a  world championship without Buddy Ryan,” he told 97.5 the Fanatic. “I’d like to say, ‘Wow, I had a lot to [do with it].’ Listen, we had the best defense in football. And if you’re a head coach and you can’t figure out how to make your offense work if you’ve got the best defense in football, then you’re nuts. I finally figured that out.”

There’s a lesson to be pulled from that statement, about identifying your greatest strength and tailoring your approach to cater to it. A pretty common sense notion but one that teams don’t always stay true to. Chip Kelly failed in this area last season, and it proved to be a big part of his downfall. Despite all signs pointing to his defense being the superior unit, he kept running his flawed offense into the wall at high speed, overexposing Billy Davis‘ group in the process.

In order to change the fortunes for the 2016 club, the feeling here is that Doug Pederson is going to have to make a sharp turn in the opposite direction and allow the defense to stand high above all else.

This isn’t exactly the ’85 ‘D’ we’re talking about, granted, but it is  a group that has a chance to be formidable — particularly with Jim Schwartz at the helm. The most accomplished coach on the staff, Schwartz last led a Bills unit that finished first in sacks and fourth in points per game in 2014 — his first and only season in Buffalo. With guys like Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry and Malcolm Jenkins and Jordan Hicks, Schwartz has some talent to plug into his proven scheme. You can see a potential path forward.

Offense is a bit of a different story. While resources have been allocated to the offensive line, there’s questions just about everywhere, including running back and receiver and of course, quarterback. While there are a couple playmakers on that side of the ball (Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, etc.) it’s not easy to picture this being a particularly prolific offense. The best course of action, then, might be to try and piece together a run game, lean on those tight ends, keep the turnovers down and (sorry, Chip) play the time of possession game so that the defense is put in the best position possible. It could be the only way for the Eagles to have a legitimate chance to compete for a division title this year.

A bonus byproduct of this is that it might just reconnect the fan base with a brand of ball it identifies with. They were willing to hop in the DeLorean for a couple seasons in hopes that it would take them into the realm where championships lie, but ultimately there wasn’t enough ass-kicking in the alternate universe for this base’s liking. A return to their smash-mouth defensive roots is what will get the juices flowing again and make the ride worth jumping on.

Ryan once said, “Offense my butt. Our offense is for Randall [Cunningham] to make five big plays and we’ll win.” Safe to say Pederson will have a more intricate plan than that on his side of the ball. But in this the season of Buddy’s passing, the new head coach with an intimate knowledge of the history of this town might be best served to put defense back on center stage.


“He was a marvelous coach, his players had swagger, they left their imprint on you when you left the field.” What They’re Saying About Buddy Ryan.

Some classic Buddy Ryan videos to watch.

Our Dan McQuade remembers the late head coach.

“Buddy Ryan was arguably one of the greatest defensive masterminds in NFL history and forever left his mark on the Eagles organization and the city of Philadelphia.” Statements from Jeffery Lurie and Doug Pederson on the passing of Ryan.

“Keep as many guys around as possible. Have this core and then build off that core.” Howie Roseman‘s plan to keep the core long-term in Philadelphia.


The opinions about Ryan still wage on, writes Bob Brookover of the Inquirer.

Fifty-five days after that bludgeoning on national TV, Washington returned to the Vet and ended the Eagles’ season and Ryan’s controversial coaching career in Philadelphia with a 20-6 playoff win. The head coach briefly benched quarterback Randall Cunningham in the middle of that game, and owner Norman Braman, the primary target of numerous verbal assaults from his coach, deemed the move “embarrassing.” Braman fired Ryan a few days later.

“You know, I’ve been fired before, but usually it’s for losing,” Ryan said. “I’ve never been fired for winning before.”

The truth is he was fired for going winless in three playoff games while simultaneously infuriating his owner with antics that were over the top and in poor taste even when the world was not nearly as politically correct as it is today.

Still, it was all so entertaining.

Ray Didinger for CSNPhilly.com wrote that Buddy Ryan was never a copy, but an original coach.

Nine months later, Ryan was coaching the Eagles and on Week 2 of the regular season, he brought his new team to Chicago to face the Bears. The Bears, of course, were world champions and the Eagles weren’t good at all, but shockingly, the game went to overtime with the Bears finally squeezing out a 13-10 victory.

My most vivid memory of that day was the scene after the game when Ryan and [Mike] Singletary embraced. They both had tears in their eyes. When Singletary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998, he thanked Ryan for putting him on the path to Canton.

In Philadelphia, what we’ll remember most about Buddy Ryan is his personality, his brash approach that often was at odds with his own front office and ultimately contributed to his firing. It is rare to refer to a coach as beloved when his résumé shows zero playoff wins, but Ryan is embraced that way by most Eagles fans. They still talk fondly of the Body Bag Game and the Bounty Bowl, and other occasions when Buddy’s boys pummeled the opposition. Buddy got the Philly fans in a way few coaches do.

Buddy and I didn’t always see eye to eye. When I wrote something critical, he often returned fire, but that’s OK. It is all part of the give and take of our business. But he is certainly one of the most unforgettable characters to pass through this town, and covering him was never dull. To see him refer to Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson as “whatever his name is” and then flash that little smirk knowing the quote would surely find its way to Johnson’s desk, well, you had to admit it was pretty funny.


More on the passing of Ryan.

Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.