NEW ORLEANS // From his long, grey hair flaring out of the back of his hat to his periodic brash statements, Rob Ryan presents himself as a renegade who does things his own way and does not care what anyone else thinks.
Yet those who have been around the New Orleans Saints' new defensive coordinator for a while do not necessarily see him that way.
As Ryan aims to turn around a unit that allowed an NFL-record 7,042 yards last season, he has brainstormed with players, who cite his willingness to listen to their ideas among his attributes, and say they appreciate being consulted.
"He's always worried about: How do we feel about this? How do we like this look? And if we don't like something, say something," Roman Harper, the defensive back, said after practice this week.
"He understands that we play the game and if we're not comfortable, then it's not going to work."
Even his hairstyle is not entirely of his own making.
"Who are we kidding? The wife likes it long," he said.
Ryan learnt defence and much of what he knows about football from his father, Buddy Ryan, who won Super Bowls as a defensive coach with New York Jets and Chicago Bears.
Ryan said he and his brother, Rex, the coach of the Jets, work closely with players because of their father's influence.
"I've only been in the league 16 years," Ryan began, somewhat sarcastically, "But I've been around it my whole life.
"The greatest defensive coach that ever coached is my dad. I watched how he was and the biggest thing he told me and my brother is: 'Be yourself'," Ryan said.
"We know we're good and we're confident, but we're smart and we don't mind sharing anything."
Ryan spent the past two seasons in Dallas, where his defences ranked in the middle of the league in yards allowed — 14th in 2011 and 18th in 2012. He was fired after last season, but was not out of work long.
Sean Payton, the Saints coach, looking to change his team's scheme from a 4-3 alignment (four linemen, three linebackers) to a 3-4, hired Ryan in early February. Ryan, 50, has run 3-4 schemes for years. He worked as a linebacker coach in such defences in New England, where he was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. He then spent five seasons as defensive coordinator in Oakland, beginning in 2004, followed by two seasons in Cleveland before moving to Dallas in 2011.
Ryan's players praise his passionate, fun-loving and aggressive approach to coaching defence.
Ryan said one of the keys to sustaining his NFL coaching career is being secure enough in himself to take advice from his players.
"The better teacher you are, the more input you can handle," Ryan said. "I don't have a dictatorship in my room. I think open forum is good when everybody knows what they're talking about. I've always done that. It doesn't make it right, but it is who I am. I just want it to look right on Sundays."
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