Buddy Ryan's twin sons, just out of college, had been ball boys and ballplayers. They had worked as hot-tar roofers and loaded planes at Philadelphia International Airport. They had sowed wild oats. They wanted to be football coaches.
Ryan decided that if Rex and Rob were going to follow his career path, it was time to teach them his famed 46 defense. Ryan rented a hotel room in his native Oklahoma and brought in an easel. The three men hunkered down there for two days.
A big moment for Rex and Rob?
"I think it was a big moment for Dad," Rex said. "I think he realized these guys have a little more aptitude for football than he thought. He taught us the 46 Single, now the Cover Seven, then 46-3 Z, right down the list. We'd get back up there and regurgitate everything we learned. I think he realized, 'Oh, man, these guys have been paying attention."'
Once the twins got started, working as entry-level college coaches, Ryan came to trust their judgment on ballplayers, treating them like scouts without portfolios. He said that in 1991, on Rob's advice, he had been ready to draft an offensive lineman who could have changed the history of the NFC East, if only the Eagles hadn't fired Ryan.
Now Rex is the new head coach of the New York Jets. Rob is defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. They are modern versions of their father: Rex already has started a feud of sorts with a Miami Dolphins linebacker and made it clear he likes free-speaking players. He has the full attention of the New York media.
But they aren't exactly like their father.
"Like what Jeff Fisher said -- he learned a lot what to do from my father, and maybe what not to do," Rex said, referring to the former Ryan assistant with the Eagles who is the NFL's longest-tenured head coach, at Tennessee.
Don't look for Rex to bash his own owner, and public opinion does matter, he said.
"The media just has a job to do. The media is not the enemy," Rex said. "Looking back, maybe he would have treated it a little bit differently."
But Rex also pointed out that his father took a hit for cutting Cris Carter rather than revealing that the fine young Eagles wide receiver had a drug problem.
"He's a man, not a rat," Rex said.
When Ryan coached the Eagles, the twins would come for the summer and work for a food-service company, loading planes. The company offered a chance to go into management training, but they knew the path they wanted.
Rob's first full-time job was as an assistant at Tennessee State. He was there in 1991 when he recommended that his father take an opposing lineman, Erik Williams, a Philadelphia native who played at Central State. All the Ryans insist that if Buddy hadn't gotten fired, the Eagles would have taken Williams, a future all-pro selected in the third round by the Dallas Cowboys, instead of trading up in the first round to take future bust Antone Davis, as the Eagles did after Ryan was dismissed in January 1991.
"That's who I was going to draft. That's what we needed," Ryan said.
Revisionist history? Not to the Ryans.
Said Rex: "That's a true statement. My brother told him, 'Dad, I've got your guy.' Dad's going to take (Williams) in the first round. Instead, he gets fired. Trust me, we knew it to be true."
"That would have been his guy," Rob said. "He looked at the tape. That guy was nasty, and he was tough. He kicked the crap out of us at Tennessee State."
When Ryan got the Arizona Cardinals head-coaching job in 1994, the twins joined him as assistants.
"People said nepotism and all that bull," Ryan said. "I'd never even heard the word."
It was nepotism, Rex said.
"I had ability as a coach, but the only reason I was there was because I was Buddy Ryan's son. That's a fact," Rex said.
The sons soon proved themselves. After the Cardinals fired Ryan at the end of his second season, Rex became defensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati. All Rob could find was a job as defensive coordinator at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
"They destroyed that junior-college league," Rex said of Rob's season there. "He was going to punish people that he was in that position. They averaged like nine sacks a game. I used to watch his tapes every week when I was at Cincinnati just to fire me up."
After just that one season, Rob took over as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State -- going from junior college to the Big 12 -- and then went back to the NFL, where he spent three years as linebackers coach at New England, then four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders.
Rex left Cincinnati to become defensive coordinator of the Oklahoma Sooners before he joined Brian Billick's Baltimore Ravens staff, where defensive players eventually called him the Mad Scientist for all the high-pressure schemes that came out of his brain.
The new Jets coach will be judged by his record, but he's already scored points for his own blustery ways. After Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder questioned Rex's big words after he took the job, the two began some long-distance media sparring during the summer.
"I've walked over tougher guys going to a fight than Channing Crowder," Rex joked.
"If he really wants to get retro, my daddy or my uncle could have handled him," Crowder shot back.
It all seems familiar. The only difference from his father may be that once the war of words with Crowder escalated, Rex telegraphed that he was just having fun with a player renowned for his own trash-talking.
"If I had to bite my tongue, I don't think that's who I am," Buddy Ryan's son said.