CLEVELAND (AP) — Born five minutes apart, Rex and Rob Ryan are inseparable. They’ve spent a lifetime together, playing, laughing, loving and fighting — sometimes with each other and often against anyone foolish enough to take them on.
They never lost.
“I don’t think there is any pair of brothers closer than we are,” Rob Ryan said. “We had our own language when we were kids growing up. If you fought one of us you had to be real tough because you had to fight both of us. We found a way to win.”
The brothers Ryan, raised by their famous father Buddy to be honest, straightforward and to rush the heck out of the quarterback, will renew their sibling rivalry Sunday when Rex leads his New York Jets into Cleveland to take on a Browns defense coached by Rob.
The days leading to the game will be filled with meetings, practices, and, of course, some serious trash talking over the phone.
“It’s going to be brutal,” Rex Ryan said. “I’m sure we’ll talk about each other’s children, wives, whatever.”
On Tuesday, Rob Ryan saw a photograph of himself, Browns coach Eric Mangini and rookie quarterback Colt McCoy that had blow darts sticking out of their images.
“He drew first blood,” Rob said of his twin. “We are going to have some retaliatory reactions coming up later in the week.”
But beyond the practical jokes and typical brother vs. brother shenanigans, the Ryan boys have an unbreakable bond. They talk daily, share a sweet tooth and sufficient stomachs, and are prone to drop an expletive or two into almost any conversation.
Rex Ryan was criticized for his profanity during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series this summer. While his mother threatened to wash his mouth with soap, his brother wasn’t offended.
“Never even noticed the language but then I heard all the criticism,” Rob cracked. “I’m just glad they weren’t here in Cleveland.”
Despite their dad’s wishes that they pursue another profession, the Ryans followed him into coaching. When Buddy Ryan, whose “46” scheme changed the way defense is played in the NFL, coached in Philadelphia, he urged his sons to accept jobs with a food service business at the airport.
Buddy Ryan learned the hard way that the grueling hours and constant travel would take a toll on his personal life. He and his wife, Doris, split when the boys were young. He wanted his sons to follow a different path.
“They didn’t listen,” Buddy Ryan said over the phone from his horse farm in Kentucky.
The Ryan brothers knew their calling.
“We’re football coaches,” Rob said. “At one time, my whole goal was just to be able to have my own trailer, live in that and coach football. That was my life’s ambition. That’s how we look at things. We’ve always been destined to be football coaches.”
After their parents divorced, Rob and Rex lived with their mother in Toronto, where the Ryans’ rough-around-the-edges reputations were developed during brutal backyard football games with their older brother, Jim, now an attorney in St. Louis.
The Ryans played basketball, hockey and baseball — all with reckless abandon. Trouble was, they were not model students or citizens. They needed discipline. So, in seventh grade they were sent to Minnesota to live with their dad, then coaching the Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters” defense.
“The Ryans were kind of running roughshod on Canada, so we had to move,” Rob said. “Our lives kind of changed when we moved in with my father, that’s for sure.”
They began as ballboys, and after playing in college, they began a slow climb up the coaching ladder — from the bottom rung. Rob’s coaching stops included Western Kentucky, Tennessee State and Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Rex was at Eastern Kentucky, New Mexico Highlands and Morehead State.
Sure, they had the advantage of a name known throughout coaching, but the Ryans worked hard, were handed nothing and are now regarded as two of the game’s best minds.
When Rex Ryan was hired as the Jets’ coach after being passed over several teams, no one was prouder than Rob, who believes his brother’s success may help him land his dream job.
“I hope it does,” he said.
Rex Ryan doesn’t pull any punches, and his shoot-from-the-hip style has endeared him to New York’s media, fans and players. Rob Ryan is no different, and it wasn’t surprising to see the Browns dump Gatorade after a recent upset of New Orleans.
They are alike and likable. But they’re also demanding. Step out of line, and there are consequences. That’s how the Ryans were taught.
“We coach men’s football and the best thing to do is be yourself with all the flaws you have,” Rob said. “People can try to sugar coat things, but I believe what Rex does best is he is direct with his players. He tells them the truth, not necessarily what they want to hear but it’s the truth. My father always installed that in us, always be honest.”
Sunday’s game will be at least the seventh with the Ryans on opposite sidelines, with Rob holding a 3-0 lead over Rex in their pro head-to-head matchups. However, this installment of the “Buddy Bowl” will be the first with one of the Ryans as an NFL head coach.
Buddy will be there.
“It’s going to be a great game,” the 76-year-old father said. “They’re both great coaches and I know they’re going to do everything they can to beat the other.”
Amid the firings and hirings that come with life as a coach, Buddy Ryan never had to worry about uprooting Rex and Rob.
“We had to move a lot,” the elder Ryan said. “The great thing is that every time we moved they knew their best friend was coming with them. Rex and Rob were always together.”
Of all the wild stories about the Ryans — and there are dozens — Rob said one of Rex’s favorites happened on a baseball diamond.
The Ryans were facing a top pitcher, who struck out Rex and then hit Rob in the middle of the back.
“I hit his dad before with a fungo bat, so the kid paid me back,” Rob said matter-of-factly.
The next time up, Rex fell behind 0-2 in the count and called timeout.
“He was only playing with one contact lens,” Rob said. “So he goes, ‘Rob give me your left contact.’ I give it to him and he plucks it in his eye and goes up and smashes a home run. I think the thing is still going. They found it in Cuba somewhere.
“He circles the bases and comes in with a big smile on his face and goes, ‘Do you want that contact back?’ I’m like, Nah, you can keep it. I think that was our best story right there.”
It won’t be the last one.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.