He was the architect of chaos and he gloried in it.
He was earthy and profane, a blunt, bullying genius in the gladiatorial arena of professional football, all bluster and bravado, and as subtle as a forearm shiver, and certainly no candidate for a diplomatic post.
But Buddy Ryan, who died Tuesday at 85, revolutionized the fine art of the carnivorous defense as it had been played in the National Football League. It was based on a simple, immutable mathematical equation: Bring one more than they can block.
First, his defenses confused you. Then they pounded the pudding out of you. The target of opportunity was always the same - the quarterback. Blitz him early, blitz him often, blitz him with extreme prejudice.
James David Ryan became so accomplished at his craft that he was accorded sport's highest honor - he had something named after him.
He was beloved by his players, most of them anyway, large brutish men not easily given to emotion. In a memorable show of affection they hoisted him on their shoulders and carted him off the field for a victory lap after the 1985 Chicago Bears had pulverized the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
Ryan was the coordinator of that defense, which is still spoken of in hushed and reverential tones. What set Ryan's Ride apart was that such trips of triumph are always reserved for the head coach. In this case that was Mike Ditka. To the players' delight, Ditka and Ryan, hot-headed mirrors of each other, were forever feuding. In front of the team.
Hired to be the defensive coordinator in Houston, Buddy disagreed with another assistant coach, Kevin Gilbride, and fired a looping overhand right at his jaw. This was during a game. And was captured on camera.
"We're not the most political people in the world, but we're great football coaches," Buddy said.
He was armed with such modesty and at each new coaching stop he would proclaim: "You got a winner in town."
That boast required defining what was meant exactly by winner. In Philadelphia, for example, he won five more games than he lost, counting playoff games, but in those three playoff appearances was 0-3. The Eagles scored only one touchdown.
That dreary postseason record was proof, his critics said, that for all his brilliance on defense, he knew very little about offense, and cared even less.
At a memorable Maxwell Club appearance he told a room full of Iggles fans: "Offense my butt. Our offense is for Randall to make five big plays and we'll win."
Randall Cunningham, the extravagantly talented quarterback once anointed on a Sports Illustrated cover as "The Ultimate Weapon," did indeed make some big plays, but agreed that, yes, some help would be appreciated.
A lifelong horseman, Buddy named one of his animals Fired for Winning, a jab directed at Norman Braman, who hired and fired Buddy. Buddy referred to him as "that guy in France." You could hear the snickers in the back of the classroom where the cool kids sat.
Buddy was ideally suited for Philadelphia and its rabid lunch-bucket, blue-collar fan base. His team had swagger and a whiff of arrogance, and the coach not only endorsed it, he encouraged it. The Birds were ravenous on defense and intimidated most of their opponents, not an easy thing to do in the NFL. Some of their games were decided before kickoff, the opponent having waved the white flag. Buddy Ball's reaction was to machine-gun the lifeboats.
On one Monday Night Football telecast, the Eagles were filling body bags, and linebacker Seth Joyner called to the opposing sideline: "Y'all are gettin' your people killed back here."
Joyner and the other Buddy Ball assassins, including Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons, swore eternal allegiance to the coach. Buddy knew why. He was barely 18 when he enlisted in the Army and fought in Korea for two years, rising to the rank of master sergeant.
"There are some people you want to go with on night patrol," he said, "and some you don't."
The critics of Buddy Ryan found him disrespectful of the game while his backers continued to light candles for him years after he was gone. But neither camp could help but acknowledge his far-reaching impact on the game. In different forms, Buddy Ball lives on, most famously in his twin sons, Rex and Rob.
"He was on a recruiting trip and found out about them the next day," their mother, Doris, said of giving birth. "Or maybe it was two days."
Together, the three male Ryans have accumulated a Jewelers Row of Super Bowl rings - two for Rob, one for Rex, two for Buddy, suggesting they are NFL royalty. Could it be that Buddy - "You got a winner in town" - was right after all?
"If we don't tell you about it," he said one time, "you might not hear the truth."
Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org