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Ryan checks in on students

8-13-03, 7:10 a.m.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Another sight you never thought you would see, but now you have.

There was Buddy Ryan wearing a Bengals' ballcap on the sidelines Tuesday here at Georgetown College declaring that they were going to turn it around.

Same old Ryan. Calls it the way he sees it no matter what it is, and the defensive guru and former head coach of the Eagles and Cardinals sees Marvin Lewis winning the rebuilding battle.

"Marvin's a good coach. He'll do well," Ryan said. "The Bengals deserve it. Finally, after 20 years."

Ryan, best known for his game-changing 46 scheme while coordinating the defense of the Hall-of-Fame Chicago Bears in the early 1980s, is a natural guest at Bengals' training camp. Lewis invited him down when he bumped into him at last spring's workout for Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson. Ryan was with his son, Rex, Lewis' defensive line coach in Baltimore for three years.

Plus, Ryan has a horse farm a short drive south of here in Lawrenceburg, Ky., and Lewis' defensive coordinator is a second-generation Ryan disciple. Leslie Frazier played right cornerback for Ryan in Chicago, and Ryan has no doubt he'll follow his path.

"He'll be a head coach in the NFL some time soon," Ryan said. "He'll do a good job for them. At least he'll make adjustments and won't let them kill you without trying."

They shared a few laughs after practice. Frazier said, "we ran the gamut," talking about that Bears' team that captured the nation's imagination, from Mike Singletary to Jim McMahon. On the sidelines, Ryan recalled how he nearly punched out the Bears special teams coach during the Super Bowl rout of the Patriots when a fake punt was called even though Chicago had the game well in hand. Frazier suffered a career-ending knee injury on the play when he ripped his anterior cruciate ligament on the Super Dome turf.

"I would have got the guy," Ryan said, "but somebody stepped on the wire for my headset as they were walking and it gave me time to think, 'Better not."'

But Ryan went ahead and boldly put together that 46 defense by thinking out of the box and putting an extra man in the box at the line of scrimmage while still being able to cover receivers.

Young coaches like Lewis, then starting his career at his alma mater of Idaho State, furiously took notes.

"Everybody was trying to get that tape," Lewis said. "His record speaks for itself. He's probably the greatest defensive coach. What they did was special. They drowned you. They choked people out. You learned from what he did, and his temperament. When in doubt, blitz."

Ryan still sees those principles being used in the eight-man fronts. He saw Lewis do a lot of that with his record-setting Ravens' defense in 2000.

"You can blitz them, but you still have to cover them and they had special guys with special abilities like Singletary and used him like that," said Lewis, who also had a Hall of Fame middle backer in Ray Lewis. "We had Ray and (safety) Rod Woodson did a lot for us. Whatever you do in game planning, some guys can adjust to change and some guys can't and you have to recognize that right away."

Ryan says Lewis' top trait as a good defensive coach is his ability to put the players where they do the best. They threw a few barbs at each other. When Ryan told him he had come to get the snap count for Rex and the Ravens, Lewis said, "I'll write it down for you Buddy, you'll never remember it."

If there is anybody more different than Ryan, it's Frazier. As outspoken and confident Ryan is, Frazier is just as quiet and understated. But they swear by each other.

"The only thing he's really told me is to be myself. That's good advice," Frazier said. "He wouldn't take a step back from anybody, but that was Buddy. He's a guy that's been great to me and a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He was so much more than just a coach to me and it was like that with most of our players. It's always great to see a good friend when you haven't seen him in for awhile.'

Of course, the question has to be asked. The greatest defense of all time? Buddy Ryan's '85 Bears that went 18-1? Or Marvin Lewis' 2000 Ravens that allowed a record 165 points?

"Both great defenses. They won championships and had some great players," Lewis said.

"Both great defenses," Frazier said. "But what would you expect Buddy to say?"

Just what he did.

"The '85 Bears," Ryan said. "The system killed people . They didn't know how to block it. The Raiders went home crying saying the Bears were the dirtiest team in the world. Oakland crying. That's pretty good. We knocked out three quarterbacks and they couldn't find anybody that wanted to go in."

Ryan made the trip down with a couple of friends. Charlie Rodes, who owns Wilson Equipment Co., met him at their workout place in Lexington, and when Ryan told him he needed some machine for his farm for the weekend, Rodes told him he'd trade him.

"I'd get it to him for the weekend if he'd join my fantasy football league," Rodes said. "He's been in it ever since. He's just a regular guy."

Ryan heads down to a Lexington tavern next week, McCarthy's, for the fantasy draft. He's got a plan.

"We take a defense and I'll probably take Baltimore," said Ryan, calling it like it is again. "Turnovers are what give you the points.

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