Coach Sean Payton promised changes to the team's NFL worst defense on Monday and hours later made a significant one, firing Ryan, the defensive coordinator.
Payton announced the move on his radio show on WWL-AM, adding that defensive coordinator duties were handed over to senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen, a former defensive coordinator in Denver and head coach in Oakland.
Earlier Monday, the Saints canceled an open locker room period for media, instead making only one defensive player — end Cameron Jordan — available by conference call.
Jordan said Ryan served in his typical role in team meetings Monday before players left the facility for their bye week.
But Jordan added, "I don't know what the organization will do from this point on."
Rex Ryan, head coach of the Buffalo Bills, said his brother was expecting the move.
"We're presuming that he's going to get let go at some point," Rex Ryan said Monday during his weekly radio show on Buffalo's WGR-AM, before Payton had confirmed the move. "But I know one thing: He's tough. He's going to compete to the very end. ... I can tell you he'll be the same guy."
The change hardly came as a shock. Fox Sports first reported that the Saints had decided to fire Ryan Monday morning, only to have Payton initially deny that report before saying hours later that the move had indeed been made.
Defensively, New Orleans ranks last in the NFL with 424.7 yards allowed per game, 6.7 yards allowed per play and 31.5 points allowed per game.
"It's hard to be last," Payton said. "That's hard to do."
Yet the Saints' defense has often made it look easy, particularly in its past two games sub-.500 teams Tennessee and Washington; New Orleans lost both games to fall to 4-6.
"I do know this — continuing just along the same course we're taking right now is not something that we're going to do. And I'm talking about players. I'm talking about us as a staff, all of us collectively." Payton said. "But you've got to look closely at what's winning and what's keeping you from winning. And in fairness to the players and fans and everyone else, we've got to look at that specifically."
Payton's comments came a day after the Saints allowed 526 yards in a 47-14 loss to the Washington Redskins.
"It's hard to swallow a game where all of a sudden you're feeling like there isn't an answer," Payton said. "There's some things on tape that have to be better. And we'll get that right. ... It might take a little bit of time. And it might hurt going down for some people. But we'll get it squared away."
Injuries have hampered the unit lately, but New Orleans has ranked consistently low defensively for a season and a half, having finished last season ranked 31st.
Even in some of their victories this season, such as a 52-49 victory over the New York Giants three weeks ago, New Orleans' defense often appeared to botch coverages and leave gaps that led to explosive plays.
Opposing quarterbacks have consistently had their best games of the season against New Orleans.
Washington's Kirk Cousins had the best game of his career on Sunday, throwing for 324 yards and four touchdowns, producing a perfect QB rating of 158.3.
Payton spoke to reporters after a team meeting in which he said he delivered a similar message about the need for change.
"It's a success-driven business," Payton said. "We've got some young guys that want to do well, want to please, some veterans the same way. Yet we've got to look closely at what we're doing and how well they're doing. But the main thing was, it wasn't going to be the same when they got back. It was going to be different. And it needs to be."
NOTES: Payton was critical of veteran cornerback Brandon Browner's apparent decision to give up pursuit of the ball carrier on one play against Washington and instead deliver a blind-side hit to offensive lineman Spencer Long, who was trailing the play. "Obviously when you're playing a screen pass that is away from you, you want to get to the ball. So those are some of the mistakes we are discussing," Payton said. "You have to get to the ball. We have to play the ball. ... You don't want to fight a battle unless you're getting to the football."
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York contributed to this report.