rex ryan

Then-Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan watches the clock during a 2016 game against the New York Jets in Orchard Park, N.Y.

In the tradition of SpongeBob and Patrick, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Bert and Ernie, Abbott and Costello and Damon and Pythias, Sean Payton and Rex Ryan would make a dynamic duo in Denver.

Although the two never have worked together, they became graduate assistants at different schools in the late 1980s and college coordinators in the 1990s. Both were recognized in the early 2000s as brilliant NFL coordinators — Ryan defensively and Payton on offense — then became prominent head coaches in the league. Each has a Super Bowl ring.

Oddly, they have dueled as head coaches only twice: in 2009 when Payton’s Saints beat Ryan’s Jets 24-10 in New Orleans and in 2013, as the Jets defeated the Saints 26-20 in New Jersey.

Ryan turned 60 last December; Payton will be 60 this December. They were NFL analysts on opposite sports networks the past season: Ryan with ESPN and Payton with Fox Sports.

The couple could bond this week for the first time in their long football careers. Ryan is the prime contender to be named the team’s defensive coordinator for head coach and de facto offensive coordinator Payton.

Now, that’s entertainment and a Mile High-class combination.

Sunday would be Funday with the Broncos. Payton and Ryan have proven to be among the best and brightest in the business in their specialties.

If Ryan does join the Broncos, just don’t ask him about Tim Tebow, even though the two are under contract to the same national network. (Acknowledgement: I also am employed by ESPN.)

One of Ryan’s most embarrassing games as head coach occurred on Thursday night, Nov. 17, 2011, when the Broncos stunned the Jets here as Timmy ran 20 yards for a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining for a 17-13 victory. If that weren’t enough, during the off-season, the Jets’ management, over the protest of Ryan, acquired Tebow from the Broncos. Tebow started two games for the Jets, but mostly served as a punt protector, and he never played in another NFL regular-season game.

Payton had his own Tebow-type quarterback in New Orleans with Taysom Hill, who still is a quarterback-running back-tight end-receiver-returner with the Saints.

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Ryan’s main competition for the Broncos’ job is Vance Joseph.

But we’ve seen his act before, and it was not outstanding. Joseph (and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) was the Broncos’ head coach in 2017-18. He also had been a backup quarterback and later a defensive backs coach at the University of Colorado before becoming an NFL assistant.

Joseph, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator for one season, was selected as the Broncos’ head coach over Kyle Shanahan by John Elway after CEO Joe Ellis approved the president of football operations’ right to decide. Elway termed Joseph “a leader of men’’ and believed the Broncos needed a defense-oriented head coach on a defense-dominated team. Shanahan, Mike Shanahan’s son, had a background on offense. He was remarkably impressive in his interview with the search committee, but Kyle truthfully was underwhelmed about Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch, who since has failed in four football leagues.

Joseph, who once said Chad Kelly was his favorite quarterback in the draft, finished his first season with a 5-11 record and last in the AFC West. Elway and Mike Shanahan met privately in December and agreed in principle that Shanahan would replace Joseph in 2018. However, Ellis, who wasn’t involved in the negotiations and had an adverse relationship with Shanahan previously, told Elway that the Broncos had to go through NFL procedures, including the Rooney Rule, before Shanahan, who had been fired at the end of 2008, could be rehired. Elway stuck with Joseph, who managed to win only six games in his second season, then was fired.

Why would Joseph even want to come back? And this regime obviously isn't aware of his previous short, terrible stint.

Joseph’s defenses during seven seasons with the Dolphins, the Broncos and the Cardinals have been ranked in the top 10 only once in yardage or points. The Cardinals were 21st in yards allowed and 31st in points permitted in 2022.

Ryan defenses in a dozen years as coordinator or head coach with the Ravens, the Jets and the Bills ranked in the top 10 in those categories nine times and No. 1 twice.

There is no comparison: Payton’s most important hiring must be Ryan.

They are the perfect pairing to lead the Broncos.

Woody Paige has been a sports and general columnist in Colorado with the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Colorado Springs Gazette and The Denver Gazette since 1974. He has been a commentator for the ESPN network on six different shows for 20 years.

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