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[Note: I’m scheduled to appear on The Bobby Curran Show on ESPN 1420 at just after 2:00 today. If you’re interested, you can listen here.]

Not Dick LeBeau.

Rex Ryan is the Tim Tebow of coaches: whatever he says tends to get magnified. I was sitting a few feet from Ryan when he made his latest controversial comment. Keyshawn Johnson asked Ryan if having a former head coach in Tony Sparano now coaching the offense would allow him to focus more on the defense. Ryan said it would, although Ryan previously vowed to also be more involved with the offense. The next question asked about Ryan’s confidence, and he said he had a lot of confidence in himself and his coaching staff. He went on:

Now, I wasn’t even in the defensive meeting last night, but I have complete faith and trust in the coaches we have. As I said, it’s easy for me to say I’m the best defensive coach in football. Now that’s saying something, because Dick LeBeau’s pretty (darn) good, Bill Belichick is pretty good. But that’s the way I’ve always believed. And you know what, I believe it because of the guys I coach with, there’s no doubt about that, and the guys that I’ve coached. That’s the truth, and that’s how I feel. I’m going to be more involved over there, calling games or whatever. Obviously, Mike Pettine, that’s my right hand guy, he’s always been my right hand guy and that’s the way it’s always going to be.

Not that inflammatory, is it? In any event, Ryan also issued a call to the media on Saturday, and if you’ve ever read this blog, you know he got my attention with what he said:

I’m still waiting to see somebody put the stats up there, because I know I’m crazy, but go ahead and just put them out there one day, since I’ve been a coordinator and head coach, I dunno where I’d rank…I really don’t even know the answer…Now watch Dick LeBeau get me.

Well, Rex, I’ll put the stats out there for you. Presumably we want to compare Ryan to all current head coaches (with defensive backgrounds) and defensive coordinators in the league. There are only 25 defensive coordinators to examine, as sevens teams do not have coordinators with any relevant track record. Both Missouri teams are actually without defensive coordinators this year: In Kansas City, Romeo Crennel will be head coach and defensive coordinator, while in St. Louis, the Rams are going with a committee approach to replace the suspended Gregg Williams. In addition, five men will be first-time defensive coordinators in 2012: Matt Patricia in New England, Kevin Coyle in Miami, Alan Williams in Minnesota, Jason Tarver in Oakland and John Pagano in San Diego.

Of the 32 head coaches, 18 of them have defensive backgrounds. Add that to the 25 defensive coordinators, and removing the three coaches with no relevant experience since 20051, and we have our population of coaches. So where does Ryan rank among the top 40 defensive minds in the NFL? There are many ways to rank a defense, and no individual metric is perfect. So instead of picking just one, I’ll list a number of defensive categories and let you decide which you like. As a hat tip to Ryan, I’ll sort the list by the one category where he does lead: first downs allowed. But the table is fully sortable, so have at it.

The categories listed are points allowed per game, total yards allowed, first downs allowed, net yards per attempt allowed, adjusted net yards per attempt allowed, yards per carry allowed, rushing yards allowed, total rushing and passing touchdowns allowed, and turnovers forced.

Coach2012 Tm2012 Role# SeaPA/GYDS1DsNY/AANY/AYPCRSH YDTDsTOs
Rex RyanNYJHC718.144962545.524.653.52145527.130.7
Mike PettineNYJDC318.845652605.394.633.75160328.730.7
Mike TomlinPITHC616.744202625.224.593.5129123.727
Dick LeBeauPITDC716.544382635.224.623.58136424.726.4
John HarbaughBALHC416.346772655.564.543.61144523.529.8
Chuck PaganoINDHC116.646222695.394.613.5414822126
Dean PeesBALDC417.348482755.895.184.21164229.329
Ron RiveraCARHC519.149672805.734.984.0917413130
Jack Del RioDENDC720.951582856.445.894.0117083524.3
Mike SmithATLHC719.151462876.065.384.17168231.926.9
Leslie FrazierMINHC521.951422886.26.113.63143132.825.8
Mike ZimmerCINDC721.851532886.125.684.07177635.126
Lovie SmithCHIHC719.351842895.734.893.93167131.433.9
Juan CastilloPHIDC120.551982895.985.744.3518013824
Wade PhillipsHOUDC720.349512915.695.314.03155731.925.3
John FoxDENHC720.951302945.865.274.02184132.429
Greg ManuskyINDDC521.953532986.345.983.8173233.223.2
Steve SpagnuoloNORDC522.753283016.195.894.29190835.822.2
Mel TuckerJAXDC423.155753026.986.414.27197739.325.5
Marvin LewisCINHC721.852973026.235.594.13180336.429.6
Bill BelichickNWEHC718.753023036.245.64.19167932.429.4
Mike NolanATLDC722.854333046.316.033.89179535.723
Perry FewellNYGDC621.754603045.965.264.45204234.829.8
Romeo CrennelKANHC621.454433056.245.534.35214234.526.2
Dick JauronCLEDC620.753703055.925.24.45218232.226.7
Dom CapersGNBDC621.353343066.265.664.25189035.829.2
Rob RyanDALDC722.854873066.425.934.33215036.623.4
Jim SchwartzDETHC723.254343066.115.764.35189439.328.4
Vic FangioSFODC220.653783086.456.114.0317703427
Jeff FisherSTLHC621.853543085.965.474.1117923727.5
Bill SheridanTAMDC126.751983086.466.534.1917735224
Jim HaslettWASDC625.355713096.656.284.5221194025.3
Gus BradleySEADC323.256383096.376.034.05182538.725.3
Sean McDermottCARDC323.854713116.395.794.29184542.332
Pete CarrollSEAHC222.656063126.265.78418503626.5
Gunther CunninghamDETDC723.856523136.456.124.51202938.928.3
Dennis AllenOAKHC124.457253156.446.574.1420213518
Rod MarinelliCHIDC524.857363216.556.264.25193241.430.2
Ray HortonARIDC121.856823335.965.784.1819863219
Jerry GrayTENDC221.455893345.975.564.4821293626.5

All of these metrics have some validity2. If forced to look at just one stat, I might be inclined to pick the touchdowns allowed category, which ignores defensive and special teams touchdowns. That category eliminates some of the bad parts of points allowed (holding teams to field goals is often considered a “win” for a defense, touchdowns scored when the team’s offense or special teams are on the field are excluded) and from yards allowed (the “bend but don’t break” defenses can fare quite well in this metric). Looking at touchdowns allowed to opposing offenses, Ryan’s teams come in behind the great duos in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator last year, and obviously Harbaugh has been the team’s head coach since 2009. Tomlin and LeBeau have worked together for six years and Pittsburgh’s defense has been fantastic nearly every season. While Ryan does come in behind them in that category, he generally ranks in the top five in most metrics. And he’s first in first downs allowed, an important measure of defensive performance.

We can say without reservation3 that Rex Ryan has an excellent defensive record. No matter what category you look at, you see coaches with backgrounds in Baltimore or Pittburgh, which should be unsurprising. The Jets have tried to be Baltimore North the last few years, with good success (except when playing the Ravens).

One metric that changes the names up top is turnovers forced, and Lovie Smith ranks first even with a seven-year sample size. If you asked Ryan which statistic he meant when he said his defenses are the best, my guess is he would cite (rightly or wrongly) yards allowed. That’s what Ryan meant when he said argued that he’s never “finished worse than sixth in the league in defense and I don’t think anybody else in the league can say that.” That’s not really true, but it’s close enough. Tomlin’s Steelers have never ranked outside of the top five in yards allowed, but he did rank 8th in 2005 as defensive coordinator of the Vikings. New Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano was only a defensive coordinator for one year, so maybe Ryan doesn’t consider his third-place ranking in one season as worthy of inclusion.

But if we are examining coaches by just yards allowed, Ryan doesn’t come in at #1 since 2005. Unfortunately for Rex, Tomlin and LeBeau got him.

  1. The three are Greg Schiano (never a DC or HC at the NFL level), Joe Vitt (only top role during that time frame was as an interim head coach in 2005), and Dave Wannstedt (last top NFL role was as head coach in 2004) from this study. []
  2. But it should be obvious that any ranking system like this has many flaws. Not all coaches are working with the same talent, and it’s impossible to fairly compare a coach with one year of experience to one with seven years. []
  3. Note: I’ve made sure the information on Ryan, LeBeau and the other top coaches are accurate, but some of the data on coaching affiliations may be inaccurate, so I can’t confirm that this data meets Football Perspective’s typical accuracy standards. Please understand that no errors, if any, in the above data is intentionally misleading, and if you believe there is an error, please just let me know. []
  • Richie

    If I assign a ranking in each of the 9 categories and total them up rotisserie baseball-style, here’s how these guys rank:

    Coach Tot
    Mike Tomlin 33
    Rex Ryan 36
    John Harbaugh 37
    Mike Pettine 47
    Dick LeBeau 47
    Chuck Pagano 56
    Lovie Smith 85
    Ron Rivera 89
    Dean Pees 93
    Wade Phillips 115
    Mike Smith 128
    John Fox 130
    Bill Belichick 149
    Leslie Frazier 155
    Mike Zimmer 172
    Jack Del Rio 178
    Marvin Lewis 181
    Jeff Fisher 191
    Dick Jauron 194
    Perry Fewell 197
    Greg Manusky 200
    Dom Capers 201
    Juan Castillo 202
    Vic Fangio 206
    Romeo Crennel 227
    Mike Nolan 227
    Pete Carroll 235
    Steve Spagnuolo 239
    Jim Schwartz 241
    Ray Horton 247
    Sean McDermott 252
    Jerry Gray 252
    Gus Bradley 267
    Bill Sheridan 278
    Mel Tucker 287
    Rob Ryan 287
    Rod Marinelli 291
    Gunther Cunningham 302
    Dennis Allen 303
    Jim Haslett 323

    Harbaugh, Rex Ryan and Pettine are the only coaches to finish in the top-10 of all 9 categories. Tomlin is 17th in turnovers, top-10 for everything else. Lebeau and Pagano also only miss in turnovers.

    In fact, there is nearly an inverse relationship between turnovers forced, and success in the other 8 categories. Marinelli is 5th in turnovers, but no better than 28th in any other category. McDermott is 2nd, but no better than 25th anywhere else.

    Is it possible that some coaches emphasize forcing turnovers, only to end up giving up a lot of big plays? While some of the more successful coaches choose to have a strong defense, and not worry about forcing turnovers?

    • Andrew

      I would say that, whilst some of the correllation between the turnover rate and the other rankings has to do with the coaches, some of it will also be due to personnel. For instance, having DeAngelo Hall means you can count on having quite a few interceptions every season, but you can also count on him blowing his coverage every other down, which is something that a coach might not be able to fix. n a different note, I’d like to see how the rankings look for defensive scoring for all of these coaches
      (mostly because I want to see Lovie Smith’s name at the top of another category. I think he is, anyway.)