Rob Ryan Plays Game of Thrones
s we enter the slog of the preseason, one refrain echoes from Saints camp.
Rob Ryan, the “Players’ Coach.” It is a phrase so oft repeated that it has become a mantra, a title:
Rob Ryan, the First of His Name, the Players’ Coach, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm, Khal of the Great Gulf Sea, called Roberys Stormborn, the Uncut, Mother(?) of Dragons.
Yes, being the Saints Defensive Coordinator is to be ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a dangerous job, to sit upon the Iron Throne with a thousand swords waiting for you to relax.1 Steve Spagnuolo lost the Defensive Game of Thrones, but I get ahead of myself.
We start at the beginning, with Gregg Williams.
Gregg Williams, like Robert Baratheon, was a tragic hero. He stormed into New Orleans after years of poor leadership of Gary Gibbs with a swashbuckling demeanor and a taste for blood. He was built for the fight, and a glorious fighter he was. The 2009 season was his eternal glory. He rose to power in that first season and by the end of year he had united the Seven Kingdoms (won the Super Bowl).
But much like Baratheon, Williams wasn’t built to sit on the Iron Throne. Never content to simply rule, he sat upon his throne perilously, never comfortable with the power he had earned. He was far more interested in tourneys, wine, and women. 2 Gregg’s power slowly eroded, until the very aggression that led to his glory, was the cause of his precipitous downfall.
In the Defensive Game of Thrones, Gregg was only concerned with conquest, lacking patience, finesse, or desire to hold onto his power.
After Gregg Williams’ sacking/goring by a boar, a new ruler was thrust into power: Steve Spagnuolo (Spags). Spags, like Joffrey of the Houses Baratheon and Lannister the First of His Name, was not ready to rule. Only months after he was hired, Sean Payton was sent on sabbatical, leaving rule to his Small Council (Vitt, Carmichael, et. al).
Spagnuolo, like Joffrey, had not earned his power, and this made him an impetuous leader. He never trusted his advisors and refused to adapt his strategies for the benefit of the Seven Kingdoms. He made rash decisions and quickly destroyed the unstable peace of his predecessor. The result? Chaos.
There’s no need to rehash the failures of this Saints defense last year. It was historically bad by more than a single metric and single handedly dragged this team out of a playoff push. Spags had no appreciation for the Game of Thrones. He lacked finesse and adaptability and left his whole swathes of his kingdom burn and rot.
But gratefully Spagnuolo’s rule was brief and there came a prophesied, silver haired savior, who had survived the red sea,3 and is destined to once again unite the Seven Kingdoms and win the Game of Thrones.
Like Daenerys Targaryen freed the Unsullied, Rob Ryan, whose lineage is unquestioned,4 will free the Saints defensive players.
The mantra of “Players Coach” is loud and constant. Each time a player gives that quote, they put another sword in the back of Spagnuolo. Ryan listens to his player, he is more than a coordinator to those players, he is Mhysa.
He has empowered the masses and they feel heard. He cannot give them their freedom. Their freedom is not his to give. It belongs to them alone. If they wish to keep it, they must take it for themselves.
Will Ryan raise the Saints defense out of the chaos left by Spagnuolo, helping the Saints win another title? Will the defense grab the freedom handed to them by the Rob Ryan, The Players’ Coach? Will Daenerys take her army and squash the usurpers?
The future is still unknown, but sports often follow a narrative, and I’d be damned if I bet against Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons.