Buddy Ryan punched Houston Oiler offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride during a sideline altercation Sunday night, giving a national television audience the ugliest manifestation yet of a feud that has been simmering all season.
Ryan, the fiery first-year Oiler defensive coordinator who has not hidden his disdain for Gilbride's run-and-shoot offense, appeared to exchange expletives with Gilbride shortly before halftime as the Oilers played the New York Jets, immediately after Oiler quarterback Cody Carlson lost a fumble.
Gilbride took a few steps toward Ryan, who charged forward and struck Gilbride's cheek with his right fist.
The two were quickly separated, and the Oilers went on to win, 24-0, giving Houston its 11th consecutive victory.
"It's a difference in coaching philosophy in the heat of battle," Ryan told reporters after the game. "That's all I'll say about it."
Gilbride declined to comment.
Meanwhile, there was another incident in the press box, apparently related to the one on the field, between receivers coach Charlie Baggett and quality control coach Frank Bush that was broken up by assistant general manager Floyd Reese. None of the three would comment.
The Ryan-Gilbride altercation occurred with the Oilers leading, 14-0, and 37 seconds left in the first half. Instead of running out the remaining time, Carlson attempted two passes, losing the fumble on the second one.
Ryan has been at odds with Gilbride from the beginning of the season, when Ryan was brought in to install his trademark intimidating, aggressive defense.
Ryan, who calls Gilbride's offense the "chuck and duck," has publicly and privately blamed the Oiler offense for injuries to two key players: defensive backs Marcus Robertson and Bubba McDowell, both of whom were injured after Oiler turnovers.
"Buddy's an extremely emotional person on the sideline," said Jeff Fisher, who coached under Ryan in Chicago and Philadelphia and is now on the 49ers' defensive staff.
"I was around him for so many years that I was able to just let it pass. We once had a similar experience on the sideline, and he's the first one who addressed the team to say, 'Look, this is the heat of the battle stuff, and I'm going to react sometimes on the sidelines. I love you guys . . . and I'm going to react that way, so don't be shocked when it happens.' "