Rex Ryan was the Ravens' defensive line coach from 1999-2004 and defensive coordinator from 2005-2008.
We're having the thud practice. It's the very first thud practice we've ever had, and thud means basically you just hit a guy and that's it. You're not taking anybody to the ground. It's physical, but you're not taking guys to the ground. And at the time we had a running back, a loud-mouthed kid named Errict Rhett. He's just an average guy. But he was running his mouth at the defense or whatever, and we're doing a 9-on-7 drill, which is like an inside drill with the D-line and linebackers. The kid comes running through there, and Ray hits this guy so hard. It was thud, it was just upper body, but he hit him so hard the first thing that hit the ground was Errict Rhett's head.
It's impossible to hit a guy this hard, but that was Ray. And the great thing is, Brian Billick is the head coach, he comes running over. He goes, "That's a thud period! This is a thud period!" Well, it is a thud! It was just such a hit; he had such a strike to him. It was awesome. It was just great. That was my first really, "Holy cow, this guy's special."
I've talked about building a tradition on defense, and I've been around a lot of great defenses, but that was one where when we started it -- all that "Play Like a Raven" stuff -- it just came to me because I felt that Ray's pride was like, "Hey, you can play for somebody else, but play like a Raven. You've got to play with everything you have and a passion and pride." And a lot of that came through Ray.
I just coined the phrase "Play Like a Raven" and it stuck. To this day it's still going out there. But I got that because of Ray. That's kind of how I felt about him and the pride and everything that I knew he played with. I coached with the same kind of pride. People who came in who didn't have that kind of sacrifice, all that kind of stuff, wouldn't fit in well.
That's why when people compare him to other linebackers, I'm like, "Don't even put those guys in the same conversation. It's not even close." He was smart, but the best thing about him was, great players make others around them better, and that was Ray Lewis. Ray was clearly the best player on the field always, but he made players around him better, and he brought their level of play and passion, he raised their level.
It was just an honor and a pleasure to coach him for all those years. A once-in-a-lifetime player, and I was just so thankful that I had the opportunity to coach him.