DeMeco Ryans, now 49ers defensive coordinator, left an imprint on Eagles

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How DeMeco Ryans’ presence is still being felt in Eagles locker room originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

DeMeco Ryans hasn’t played for the Eagles in over half a decade, but his presence is still being felt within the NovaCare Complex walls.

Ryans, who was the Mufasa of the Eagles’ defense during the Billy Davis years, returns to the Linc on Sunday as the fast-rising defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers.

But his teammates in Philadelphia still remember him as the guy who taught them how to lead.

“I think everybody who has played with DeMeco had the ultimate respect for DeMeco,” Fletcher Cox said. “I still have the ultimate respect for him. I think that his leadership was always there in the good and the bad. It kind of rubbed off on me. You can’t just be a leader when things are good. You gotta be a leader all the time. DeMeco’s he’s just a natural born leader. You gotta respect that guy for that.”

Ryans joined the Eagles via a trade before the 2012 season. He played that year under Andy Reid and then the Eagles hired Chip Kelly and Davis and began to run a 3-4 scheme. After his years in Houston, Ryans fit right in, in Philadelphia.

During his four years with the Eagles, Ryans played in 54 games and started all but one. And after tearing his Achilles in 2014, he was able to return and play in 14 games in 2015, but was released that offseason along with a lengthy statement from the Eagles, explaining how much he meant to the organization. Howie Roseman also led off his press conference at the combine that year thanking Ryans.

Ryans’ only Pro Bowl nod came with the Texans in 2009, but he was a very good player for the Eagles. But more importantly, he was the unquestioned leader of the defense. And he taught some of the Eagles’ leaders in 2021 the way.

There aren’t many Eagles still around from the 2015 season, but among those who are, Ryans is revered.

“DeMeco was just the epitome of a team leader, a captain, extremely smart guy,” Jason Kelce said. “Not surprised at all that he’s climbed the coaching ranks as quickly as he has. He was a phenomenal player here really. The quarterback of Billy Davis’s defense when he was here with Chip. Phenomenal player, really, really smart and I’m sure he’s going to be great as a defensive coordinator.”

Ryans, 37, never played again in the NFL after the Eagles released him but didn’t wait long to begin his climb in the coaching world. The 49ers hired Ryans as a quality control coach in 2017, he then spent three years as an inside linebackers coach before getting promoted to the defensive coordinator position this season after Robert Saleh was hired away by the Jets.

When Ryans was still playing in Philly, everyone (especially Chip) thought he was destined to be a big-time coach.

Heck, he was already coaching as a player.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Cox said. “Just him playing and the way that he talked and the way that he spoke ball. He made it seem so simple. He used to say and he used to say all the time that simple isn’t always easy. The way that he coached it, the way that he led and the way he explained ball.

“He was always a guy that I could go to and talk about just real life stuff and he was honest about it, telling me the way that he would handle things, which always made sense. Just being a pro about it. He was always that leader, a guy you could go talk to on or off the field. Like I said, got so much respect for him.”

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