In the years since my retirement, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the coaches who’ve had the greatest impact on my life. Although there have been many, none stands out more than Buddy Ryan. He was stern, but fair. And he was absolutely uncompromising when he saw unrealized potential.
When people ask me to describe Buddy as I coach, I describe him as having a hard-nosed – almost gangster – mentality. He fought for his players – figuratively and literally. Who could ever forget Buddy taking a swing at Kevin Gilbride for putting his defense in a bad position when they both coached for the Oilers?
Knowing that Buddy had your back made you want to play that much harder for him. The mentality of fighting for his team poured over to each individual team member, and we, in turn, fought for one another.
But despite Buddy’s tough exterior, he had his own, quiet way of injecting humor. One memory that remains strong with me is that of Buddy’s “voluntary” practices during training camp. We players started jokingly referring to them as “volandatory.” The practices were supposedly voluntary, but were essentially mandatory. In other words, “Just wait and see what Buddy does to you if you fail to treat that voluntary practice as mandatory!”
For my first couple of years at Arizona, I didn’t get a lot of playing time. But Buddy saw something in me, and gave me license to do what I did best: make things happen – even under the worst of circumstances. He allowed me to change the way the fullback position was played, and positioned me to become the career reception leader among all running backs.