FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2013 file photo, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan walks on the field before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, in East Rutherford, N.J. Dallas Cowboys' Jason Hatcher gives Ryan most of the credit for a transformation that has him second among NFC sack leaders in 2013. Now the Cowboys get to face their old defensive coordinator less than a year after he was fired and ended up in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)The Associated Press
METAIRIE, La. – Rob Ryan is enjoying his new gig in the Big Easy too much to cling to any resentment over being fired in Dallas last season.
At least, that's his story, and he's sticking to it, just as the Saints' close-to-the-vest head coach, Sean Payton, would want him to in the days before the Cowboys invade the Superdome.
"I'm just trying to be a little tiny part of our success here with the Saints and that's all I care about," Ryan said after Friday's practice. "I just want to be great, do the best I can with the Saints and we're all working hard together and trying to be part of something special."
When Ryan was fired after last season, he sounded incredulous over the notion that he couldn't be part of the solution in Dallas, where he'd been defensive coordinator for two seasons. He predicted he'd have another job in "5 minutes," and if he was speaking figuratively, then he wasn't far off.
He was snapped up by Payton soon afterward and the Saints' defense is already vastly improved.
This Sunday night in the Superdome, his new defense will try to stop his former team. But Ryan dismisses the notion that this game is personal for him, or that he should somehow feel vindicated by the fact that New Orleans' defense ranks ninth in total defense, while his old unit ranks 31st under new coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"If I worried about every team that's fired me, I mean, hell, I'd have a grudge every week," Ryan said. "That's the way this sport is. People change teams. Thank God it's not like hockey coaches yet, where they keep changing them every period, but it's the way it is. I love those players out there (in Dallas). They were great to me. There's a lot of great people in that organization and I was fortunate enough to be with them for two years."
Ryan still wears his hair long and endears himself to his players with his youthful passion and humor.
At the same time, Ryan said he has matured enough to not take it too personally when a team sends him packing.
"You just got to come to the conclusion, look man, not everybody thinks like I do, Ryan said. "I always think I'm going to do great because I pour everything I've got into the job. Some people don't think it's good enough and they fire you and you get (upset) because you've done your best.
"I'm excited to be here. This is the most exciting of any spot I've ever been is right here," Ryan continued. "I love it here in New Orleans. I love this team. I love the players. I love how the team is run. ... It feels like home and it's a great spot for me."
When pressed about whether he feels he failed in Dallas, Ryan said, "I know I'm a great coach, so whatever it is, it is. But I said in Dallas on my way out, there's a couple better coaches than me that have been fired. Not many, but there's a couple. ... Whatever it was, I'm sure it was a great decision on everybody's part."
Payton said too much is made of so-called revenge games.
"Just by the nature of what we do, you know, the appreciation for just a win each week and how difficult it is to get that, I think that a lot of that's overblown," Payton said. "Each week with our league there's always going to be a connection,"
Payton then grinned as he dropped a reference to a 1980s movie character, played by Forest Whittaker, who takes out his anger over his car being vandalized on a rival high school football team.
"It's not like 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' where you had the one defensive tackle that just blew up the whole game," Payton said. "Guys are trying to do their best."
Saints defensive players this week have corroborated Ryan's story that he has been focused on the game plan, not a personal vendetta.
"This is how we know Rob Ryan is a changed man. This is his opportunity to make it all about him and about how he can get redemption. He's really focused on us just going out, playing well, getting a win and moving on," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Knowing he's in a good place and he has something special here, he has been on his best behavior."
Ryan added that he hasn't "been up all night studying what I'm going to say to the media. I just want to coach football, work hard, get it right and help us win."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org