Back in 1998, Rex Ryan was the defensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma and John Blake was the Sooners’ head coach.
Eighteen years later, they’re together again.
This time, Ryan is the head coach, of the Buffalo Bills, and Blake is his new defensive line coach.
Ryan hired Blake, who has 20-plus years of coaching experience, Tuesday to replace Karl Dunbar, who was fired after only one season with the Bills.
Lamar University hired Blake as its defensive line coach on Feb. 16, but less than a month later he bolted from the job to work with Ryan again.
Blake, 55, brings some baggage to Buffalo. In 2010, he resigned from a defensive line coaching job at the University of North Carolina, where he had been since 2007, after an investigation into players’ relationships with an agent, the late Gary Wichard, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011.
Blake was suspected of being an employee of Wichard and receiving cash benefits from the agent. In 2012, the NCAA determined that Blake had received personal loans from Wichard and failed to disclose them to UNC, while also misleading NCAA investigators, and banned him from college coaching for three years.
Wichard formerly represented Ryan.
“… I believe he will do an excellent job in working with the talented players we have at that position,” Ryan said of Blake in a statement. “John is a heck of a coach who has worked with many outstanding players and made them better. He endured a difficult time in his coaching career a few years back, but has moved forward with his life and put that behind him.
“Since that time, he has worked with a number of NFL players and earned their respect with his ability to hone their skills and techniques. I don’t think you will find better examples of his teaching abilities than the work he has done recently (as a tutor for) Jason Pierre-Paul (of the New York Giants) and Jerry Hughes (of the Bills).”
According to Peter King of MMQB, Blake traveled to Florida a half-dozen times to work with Pierre-Paul after the defensive end suffered a severe hand injury in a July 4 fireworks accident, and help rebuild his confidence. Blake told King he worked with many other NFL defensive linemen, including Hughes, Dwight Freeney, Robert Quinn, and “others. I think it’s a gift I have.”
Blake previously coached in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, guiding a defensive line that included three Pro Bowlers: future Hall-of-Famer Charles Haley, Russell Maryland, and Leon Lett. Blake won two Super Bowls with Dallas, XXVII and XXIX.
After working with the Cowboys, Blake was head coach at Oklahoma from 1996 to 1998. He returned to being a defensive line coach at Mississippi State (2003) and Nebraska (2004-2006).
Blake began his coaching career in 1985 as a student assistant with Oklahoma before earning his first full-time position in 1987 at Tulsa, where he spent two seasons as tight ends and wide receivers coach. He spent the next four seasons at Oklahoma guiding the Sooners’ defensive linemen and linebackers.
The Bills made two other adjustments to their coaching staff. Jeff Weeks, who had been their assistant defensive line coach, now will work with outside linebackers. Jason Rebrovich, who coached outside linebackers, now will work with the defensive line.