clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What If Buddy Ryan Hadn’t Left?

As we continue to explore hypothetical scenarios this offseason, it’s important to consider the lost potential dynasty of the 1980s.

Super Bowl XX

If you check out Football Outsiders’ historical DVOA Estimates from 2014, one team sits at the top, and it’s not even close. The second-best team (the 1969 Minnesota Vikings) had an impact of -32.9% DVOA, with the negative number indicating more or less how heavily the those VIkings undermined the offenses that they faced. The number one team? The 1991 Philadelphia Eagles, sitting at -42.4%. In fact, on a year-by-year basis from 1986 to 1991, the Eagles never leave the top five for defensive efficiency.

Over that same time, the Bears fall from first (1986) to eleventh, and while they have some peaks (second in 1990), they also have some valleys (seventeenth in 1989).

Buddy Ryan was the architect of the famed 1985 Chicago Bears defense, and he was the artist behind the defense that replaced it as the most dominant in the NFL in the form of the Eagles’ defense. Say what you will about Ditka (and the Bears’ offense under Ditka was nothing to sneer at), but Ryan basically owned one side of football for decade.

What if that entire time had been spent in the Windy City? It’s not unimaginable. Obviously, there was a personality conflict between Ryan and Ditka. When both coaches’ were lifted onto the shoulders’ of their players in the Super Bowl, a moment that was undeniably symbolic. Still, imagine a scenario where Ryan is the one that the Bears try to hang on to. Imagine that instead of Buddy leaving the organization, he stays. Maybe, eventually, Iron Mike is forced out and the reins are handed over to the father of Rex and Rob.

Is there any reason to think that Ed Hughes cannot take over the offensive scheme (which is officially listed on Pro Football Reference as “Smashmouth”) as well as Ditka implemented it? With all due respect to the mustache, how hard is it to have an offense that makes Walter Payton look good?

The reality is that there would be some fall-off, at least in parts, if the offensive scheme were dramatically unsettled. However, the 80s were a time when defense really could win championships, and having flexibility on the offensive side of the ball if a coordinator needed to be changed up might very well have helped the Bears transition into the 1990s even better.

Personally, I am firmly of the belief that one of the reasons the 1985 Bears were so special was because of the tension between the coaches. That being the case, I think 1986 and 1987 would have been the best chances for the team to go back to the Super Bowl. With Ryan coordinating the defense, how would the Buddy Bears manage against Washington, which succeeded in knocking taking down the real-life Chicago playoff teams?

It’s hard to say for sure, but I will point out that during the entire tenure of Ryan’s time in Chicago, Washington went 1-4, against the Bears. The sole loss was a 24-7 postseason defeat in which Vince Evans threw 4 interceptions and Matt Suhey was held to 25 yards. Joe Thiesman was still held to a 39.2 passer rating.

In short, I think if Buddy Ryan stays, things do still fall apart eventually. However, I’m convinced that there are a pair of windows for a second Super Bowl, at least. The first window would be while that beautiful ‘iron sharpens iron’ tension permeates the locker room. For at least two years, that team goes from being a contender to a favorite. The second window opens when the team is fully Buddy’s, and when he has a chance to take full ownership of the team with his own defense fully installed and woven into the fabric of the team.

What do you think?