Sean Ryan was looking for a new home in the NFL following the 2018 season.
His contract with the Houston Texans — where had been the quarterbacks coach the last two seasons — was up and Ryan was hoping to land in a spot with potential to move up.
It also happened that the Detroit Lions were looking for a new quarterbacks coach, so Ryan, a native of Hudson Falls, made the big move from south Texas to the Motor City in January.
“Bill O’Brien is the play caller (in Houston), and that’s probably not going to change — it’s his prerogative as head coach and he’s good at it,” Ryan said in a recent phone interview. “I knew there were a few situations opening around the league, and I’ve known (Lions head coach) Matt Patricia for a long time.”
Ryan, 46, was hired by the Lions on Jan. 28, along with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, to help reshape a Lions offense that struggled in a 6-10 season. Detroit finished 25th in the league in points scored and quarterback Matthew Stafford had his statistically worst season as the Lions’ full-time starter since his rookie season in 2009.
“It’s my third transition in the league,” said Ryan, who coached with the New York Giants in various capacities from 2010-15 before moving to Houston for three seasons. “I knew some of the guys before, so that made things easier, but any time you make that transition, you’d better be good at listening and not talking as much.”
And Ryan has hit the ground running in Detroit.
“We’ve been busy installing a new offense, then the (NFL scouting) combine and evaluating talent, and now getting ready for the draft,” he said. “There hasn’t been any down time.”
Ryan has done some scouting of talent before the NFL draft, set for April 25-27 in Nashville.
In June, Ryan said he and his wife — they’re expecting their first child this year — will return to the Glens Falls area for a few weeks before getting ready for training camp.
The move to Detroit gives Ryan an opportunity to work with a veteran quarterback again. He coached Eli Manning with the Giants in 2012-13, and spent the last two seasons developing the Texans’ young Deshaun Watson. Houston went 11-5 last season, but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“I loved working with Deshaun, but this was another opportunity to work with a veteran quarterback who will have a lot of input into what we’re doing,” Ryan said.
Judging from recent media accounts, Ryan is respected around the league as an up-and-coming position coach and a potential future coordinator. He interviewed for offensive coordinator positions with Cleveland and Minnesota last year.
Ryan said he and Bevell — who coached previously in Minnesota and Seattle, where quarterback Russell Wilson had his four most productive years — have already had several conversations about building a new offense for the Lions.
“You run what (Bevell) believes in and you tweak it to your personnel,” Ryan said. “If your quarterback isn’t comfortable with it, you’re not going to do it. You have to have your core offense and beliefs and philosophy, but your players had better be comfortable with it, because that’s what’s going to make it go.”
Ryan will work with Stafford and backups Connor Cook and Tom Savage — the Lions’ most recent signee, with whom Ryan worked in Houston. Ryan said they’re all similar — big pocket-style passers with strong arms and the ability to keep plays alive — but Stafford is the clear veteran leader.
“Matthew is about the same age Eli was when I started working with him (in 2012) — in the heart of his career, the sweet spot,” Ryan said. “There are different incentives for guys at certain spots in their careers — once money is out of the way, you want to win a championship and make your mark. It’s exciting to be here at this stage of his career.”
A 1990 Hudson Falls graduate, Ryan has built a solid coaching resume since his first job, as quarterbacks coach at Siena College in 1997. He worked his way up the coaching ladder at the college level before landing with the Giants as offensive quality control coach in 2007.
Ryan said his fundamental coaching philosophy has not changed over the years, but the schemes, personalities and the abilities of different players will tweak what he does.
“Dealing with a veteran like Matthew Stafford is different than working with a young quarterback,” he said. “Deshaun (Watson) had good input, too, but Matthew has seen a lot of things in the league, so I’ll be able to pick his brains, see what works for him, what he’s comfortable with.
“In the room, I want guys talking — good football discussions, I want them contributing, engaged and interested,” Ryan added. “Field work changes a little bit depending on what each guy needs to work on. But fundamentally, how you work with and treat the people you work with, that doesn’t change.”
Ryan said he learned the most by working with Manning when he was with the Giants.
“Working with Eli taught me a lot about how prepared an upper-echelon, Super Bowl MVP quarterback truly is,” he said. “You walk into the room and most people say you should watch your next opponent’s last four games. Coaching a guy like Eli, that’s not enough because he’s going to watch every game. So you need to step up your game in terms of preparation and film. It was a great experience coaching him.”
Ryan is also looking forward to working with Patricia, the Lions’ second-year head coach. Patricia is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a former assistant to Bill Belichick in New England.
“Matt’s got a good reference from his time in New England — he’s seen the formula (for success) and he has a vision for this place,” Ryan said. “The expectations are set high, at a championship level. So we’re doing whatever it takes to make us better — that’s the goal, daily, weekly, monthly. I’m looking forward to getting to work.”