The former Worcester Warriors and Gloucester head coach has quit his job at the RFU, where he has been head of international player development since 2016, to try to breathe new life into the Gwent side as their director of rugby.
“It is about finding something I am excited about and this gives me back the ability to go and compete with people again in a sporting environment,” said Ryan, capped four times by England.
“This is something I’ve done all my life and I’ve missed it. I missed getting off a bus and I missed standing with 35 people getting ready to go.
“What I didn’t miss was somebody having an opinion that I didn’t think was valid or relevant to supporting the team. I haven’t come here just to do a head coaching job.
“I’ve had those in the past and I’ve become incredibly frustrated with those people who sit on boards and take decisions when they don’t understand rugby. I was very clear when I left Worcester that I was incredibly frustrated about the board and that I didn’t have confidence in them.
“People saw that as a criticism, but we get sacked pretty quickly in this job. This has given me the chance to have a level of influence in some different environments and still get excited about competing.”
Ryan will now straddle the boardroom and the playing field as he seeks to help Dragons chairman David Buttress pull the Newport-based outfit up the Guinness PRO14 ladder as well as helping them compete in the European Challenge Cup.
“My challenge here is a pretty significant one and I’m at a stage of my career where that excites me more than anything else,” said Ryan.
“If someone had said six months ago I would come back into club rugby I would probably have been pretty sceptical about it, but I started talking to David and between us we just asked why do we do things like this and why can’t we look at it slightly differently?
“When you look at something like the Dragons and the challenge you know immediately that it is just not about having a different line-out or a different backs move, it’s about a number of different things that need aligning at the same time.
“To look at this as just a rugby challenge I think is the wrong approach. You need to look at it as how can you build something that in four or five years has the building blocks that allow it to go on and be successful.”
Dragons chairman David Buttress went through a lengthy recruitment process before turning to Ryan and enticing him away from the RFU. Now he is thrilled to have got his man and is excited about working with him.
“Dean’s reputation goes before him and his track record has been exceptional wherever he has been. His breadth of knowledge about the game both on and off the field is something we need here,” said Buttress.
“We want to do things differently. We want to build something that is highly successful in the long term and to do that we have to do things differently.
“It was very obvious to us that not only does Dean have the experience and expertise to help us create the success we want here at the Dragons, but he can help with the strategic development of our club at board room level.
“For this to work on the field I’ve got to do some good stuff off it. Otherwise it is no good me holding Dean to account if I don’t hold myself to account.”