How close are the Ryan brothers?
The short version: They shared a womb until Rex left five minutes before Rob.
The slightly longer version: They talk daily, despite the rugged schedules of their NFL coaching jobs. The funny version: Rex borrowed Rob’s left contact lens in a high school baseball game and hit a home run.
“I don’t think there is any pair of brothers closer than we are,” Rob said Tuesday in a conference call. “We had our own language when we were kids growing up.”
The Ryan twins will reconnect in person Sunday as the Browns host the Jets. Rob is Cleveland’s defensive coordinator; Rex is New York’s head coach.
This week is filled with interesting story lines — Eric Mangini playing the team that fired him; receiver Braylon Edwards returning to face the team that traded him and the fans who “never accepted him”; Cleveland going against quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom the Jets drafted with the pick traded to them by the Browns in 2009.
But the funniest and most good-natured subplot is the matchup of the twins who were born to coach blitzing defenses in the NFL. The sons of Buddy, architect of the famed “46” defense with the Bears and the most famous defensive coordinator of all time, have a million funny stories. Rob called the contact lens one their best.
Rex was a “big-time home run hitter,” Rob was a “pretty good player myself” and they were facing an ace pitcher with pro scouts in the stands. “This kid struck him out the first time, and hit me on an 0-2 pitch in the middle of the back because I hit his dad before with a fungo bat,” Rob said. “The next time up, Rex has got two fastballs by him, which nobody ever snuck a fastball by him.”
Rex had been playing with one contact lens, called timeout and asked Rob for his left lens.
“I give it to him and he plucks it in his eye and goes up and smashes a home run,” Rob said. “I think the thing is still going, I think they found it in Cuba somewhere. He circles the bases and comes in with a big smile on his face and goes, ‘Do you want that contact back?’ I’m like, ‘Nah, you can keep it.’” The pair of trash-talking, beer-drinking, big-bellied brothers got into their share of fights growing up, including their own knockdown, drag-out in a college dorm. But Rob’s fondest memories are of them on the same side. “If you fought one of us, you had to be real tough because you had to fight both of us,” he said. “I don’t think we ever lost any fights because, (heck), we were always two-on-one.”
Rex and Rob share a sense of humor and talk with the same style and salty language.
“I never even noticed it,” Rob said of Rex’s prolific swearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” that drew criticism.
They have the same defensive philosophy of attacking and hitting the quarterback, and are supremely confident. Rob has cooler hair. Rex has the better job.
The Jets went to the AFC championship game last season in his first year. They share the NFL’s best record at 6-2.
Rob hopes Rex’s success will help him land the head coaching job he covets.
“I don’t think being a head coach is something that you have to hire some guy that is going to stand up there and bore the (heck) out of you,” Rob said. “I think it’s good that you get somebody fresh that is exciting, is energetic and you see his team. I think they’re an energetic team.”
The Ryans don’t fit the mold of typical NFL head coach, which could be why the path was longer than expected for all three.
“If you look and paint a picture of a head coach, you usually have got some pretty boy nowadays,” Rob said. “I don’t think me, Rex or my dad are male models by any stretch. But we are (darn) good football coaches.”
“I can just feel it that somebody is going to give Rob the same chance the Jets gave me,” Rex told the New York Post.
In addition to their defensive minds, what separates the Ryans is the way they relate to players.
When the Bears won the Super Bowl after the 1985 season, defensive coordinator Buddy got the celebratory ride on the players’ shoulders. Rex has transformed New York with his magnetic personality, and Rob is loved by his guys.
“The biggest thing is Rex is genuine,” Rob said. “He doesn’t lie. He is who he is. He’s a great person. I think everybody he meets loves Rex.”
The twins learned that from Buddy, who’s going to be in Cleveland for the game Sunday.
“You have to be yourself as coach, because if you’re not, the players are going to find out about it real quick,” Buddy told the New York Post. “Phonies are never going to make it for very long, and neither of my boys is a phony.”
They are real ... competitive. Rex is 3-0 in their NFL meetings as assistants. This is the first time one’s been in the head job.
The trash talking started early.
Rob said he saw a picture of the Jets’ facility with photos of Mangini, Rob and quarterback Colt McCoy with darts in them.
“I have about 14 on me,” Rob said. “I am taking offense to it and we are going to have some retaliatory reactions coming up later in the week.” “It’s going to be brutal,” Rex said Monday. “I’m sure we’ll talk each other’s children, wives, whatever. I’m really going to go after him (today).” Buddy and his wife were divorced when the twins were young, and they lived with their mother in Canada. The boys moved in with Buddy in Minnesota before high school — he was coaching the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters — beginning the road to the NFL.
“I think the Ryans were kind of running roughshod on Canada, so we had to move,” Rob said. “We moved in and got a little discipline. Our lives kind of changed when we moved in with my father, that’s for sure.”
Life with a coach isn’t always easy. Buddy changed jobs and cities often, uprooting the boys.
“The great thing is that every time we moved they knew their best friend was coming with them,” Buddy told The Associated Press. “Rex and Rob were always together.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.