"You've got a winner in town," said Ryan, who left his job as defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers after one turbulently successful season. ''We're looking forward to winning. So today we start . . . If there are any real good football players here, they're going to want to play for Buddy Ryan."
Nobody will be shocked if Ryan's hiring ends up having some direct effect on the Eagles. Their biggest worry has to be that Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner, two of the players Ryan brought to Philadelphia as late-round draft choices in his first year and turned into stars, soon could be unrestricted free agents.
"The Eagles have to look at this situation and consider that Buddy Ryan is a threat to them right now," said Jim Solano, the agent for Simmons and Joyner.
No matter who he has on his team, Ryan will be bringing the Cardinals to the Vet, at a still unscheduled date - but one that is sure to be the toughest ticket of the season. The Eagles also, of course, will play their NFC East rivals once in Phoenix.
Ryan, who contacted Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill after Joe Bugel was fired, was not believed to be the No. 1 choice for the job. He reportedly moved into the top spot after the Washington Redskins hired Dallas offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who reportedly was offered the Phoenix job of coach and general manager for $700,000 a year.
"I really didn't know that they didn't get him, and I don't really care," said Ryan, whose salary was not disclosed. "I mean, I knew Norv when he was a receivers coach with the Rams. I think I've got a better job than he's got."
The Eagles were 43-35-1 in five years under Ryan, winning 10, 11 and 10 games in his final three seasons, but never winning a playoff game. After being fired by Norman Braman in January 1991, he was out of football for two years.
Many believed that Ryan, who turns 60 this month, would never get another NFL head-coaching job, not after he continually took the side of players over management when he was with the Eagles. This talk intensified after Ryan took his sideline punch at Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on national television last month.
Of course, Ryan never believed the talk. "If somebody wants to win, they know where to find me," Ryan said after the punch.
And he'll know where to find some players he wants. In addition to now having Ryan, Phoenix has warm weather, natural grass, and, most important, room under the new salary cap. All are believed to be appealing factors to Simmons and Joyner.
However, Solano, no doubt licking his chops at the negotiations just ahead, said people shouldn't count the pair as gone from this town yet.
"They still want to play in Philadelphia. I know that sounds like bull," Solano said. "But if they don't, their next choice is to play for Buddy."
Linebacker Wilber Marshall, whom Ryan spirited away from the Redskins to play for the Oilers last season - and who was a star for Chicago when Ryan was defensive coordinator on its 1986 Super Bowl team - only had a one-year contract and is due to be a free agent again. Another player Ryan is thought to covet is Eagles cornerback Otis Smith, a potential free agent.
Ryan is the first person to whom Bidwill has given the dual role of coach and general manager. "I have said we want to reach the next level," said Bidwill, who met with Ryan for two days in negotiating the contract. "Buddy Ryan has been to the next level. I anticipate he will take us there."
Andre Waters, who also will be a free agent if he doesn't sign with the Eagles by Feb. 17, said he was thrilled that the coach who gave him his chance to start in the NFL is getting another shot. "I know he'll be a success there," Waters said.
And some fans in this town will have mixed emotions when Buddy comes to town. "I think he'll get a standing ovation," said Joe Marsala, a college
financial-aid adviser who saw his first Eagles game in 1953 and who counts
himself as a Buddy loyalist. "I hope it ends in a tie."