Former Penn State University and Philadelphia Eagles football player Kenny Jackson said he wants people to know that Buddy Ryan was like a father figure, who not only imparted respect for the game, but also reinforced love for his players.
“The most important thing I want people to know, when I was coaching at Penn State, Buddy Ryan was at the hospital when my daughter was born,” Jackson said in an phone interview with Fox 43. “That’s how close we were. It was my first year coaching spring football, and I was trying to get back to Houston where my daughter was being born. He made sure everything was alright. Buddy was coaching at the Houston Oilers at the time. So, it’s deeper than just a coach. When people ask, why do you love Buddy Ryan, I say he saw my daughter before I did.”
Ryan, a former Philadelphia NFL head coach and influential defensive coordinator, passed away in Kentucky Tuesday, June 28. He was 85.
After Eagles practices, Jackson said, he would work at his restaurant Kenny’s Korner Deli. On his menu included an item called, Buddy Ryan’s honey dipped chicken.
“He ate there every Thursday, him and his late wife Joanie. We talked about the team,” Jackson said. “We were very close.”
Both men shared a love for horses, Jackson said. He added, they shared an experience of a lifetime, watching a thoroughbred be born in Kentucky.
“I had a chance to go see his horses,” Jackson said. “He put me up first class. I look back at it now, and think, Jesus, God, that’s a good man. I wasn’t the star of the football team.”
The closeness Jackson said he shared with Ryan was similar to the way he revered Joe Paterno at Penn State.
“It was very similar to Joe Paterno,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been fond of my coaches. Ryan was just such a man’s man. You couldn’t play for him unless you were about the team. The team mattered more than just the individual.”
The way Ryan coached, Jackson said, was to be respected. He said Ryan asked deeper questions.
“You couldn’t be a dumb football player,” Jackson said. “You had to know what you were doing. He was a man of few words. He didn’t call you by your name, he called you by your number. He cared more about the team.”
Even though Jackson said he wore jersey numbers 83 and 81, he said he cared more about what his coach was telling him. He said he knew he was loved.
“When you have that kind of relationship, what you see is what you get,” Jackson said. “He was no phony. He was always open and honest. If he knew you cared about the team, he would do anything for you. We just loved him. If you don’t love your players, you can’t win.”
Ryan’s twin sons are coaching together for the Buffalo Bills this upcoming season, something Jackson said he knew Ryan wanted to see. His sons have coached in the NFL for several years.
“He had a great life,” Jackson said. “All you have to do is look at his children. He’s happy now.”
Jackson’s daughter is 23 year-old Sara Jane Jackson.