Handicapping the Ravens’ job search is impossible…but we’ll try!

January 09, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

Everywhere I go, and with every email I open, people are all asking the same question: Who is going to be the next coach of the Ravens?

As was borne out last Monday morning, it’s all but impossible to obtain accurate and reliable information from the Ravens at this point, because it feels like the last 10 days of the job search have been an “hour by hour” situation.

It’s weird after almost 13 years to think that the Ravens are flying by the seat of their pants, but it sure looks that way.

I’ll go through the skinny on the candidates below, but here’s an overview of what I know and/or believe.

A few things that have been made clear to me:

1.    No one in the organization had any clue that Brian Billick was in trouble, because there was zero manpower put into even making a short list of candidates before the “wildcat” firing. The franchise was woefully unprepared to begin the monumental task of finding a coach on such short notice. The committee (believed to include Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass, Ozzie Newsome, Kevin Byrne, Eric Decosta, George Kokinis and Pat Moriarty) has been doing background checks on all of the candidates as the process evolves. There was no “strategy” involved in the process because no one in the building (other than Cass and Bisciotti) knew there would BE a search for a head coach. For an organization that has built itself on the famed “process,” this is way out of character, which is what makes all bets “off” as to what the endgame will be here.

(Here’s the major point: THEY don’t have any idea who the next coach is going to be, so how in the world could you or I even make an educated guess!)

2.    At this point, it appears as though the people on the committee are all picking their “favorites” and bringing them in to see what the rest of the “think tank” thinks about each candidate. In the end, based on Bisciotti’s kneejerk firing of Billick, most people in the league believe that he’s going to ultimately pick the coach more so than anyone on the football side. (My personal opinion: it’s a dangerous time for the future of the franchise. But I’m hoping and praying for the best.)

3.    You’d have to believe that the longer this process goes on, the more hamstrung the new coach will be in getting the coordinators and assistant coaches of his choice. One thing you can NEVER question about Brian Billick was his ability to identify and obtain assistant coaches (Nolan, Lewis, Del Rio, Smith, Ryan, etc). Billick was a MANIAC about keeping a list of potential assistants because he knew his success would be directly linked to his staff.

4.    The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama is fast approaching (Jan. 26th) and it’s truly the world’s biggest coaching job convention. If they don’t have a coach in place by then, it becomes even more difficult to flesh out a staff, not to mention the new coaches’ ability to begin the preparation process for the draft.

5.    The BIGGEST issue here is the use of valuable time for the committee. As one league insider told me, “You have no idea how stressful it is to NOT have a head coach or a coaching staff. When you don’t have one, it’s impossible to evaluate your own team, or potential free agents or potential draft picks. You don’t have a system on either side of the ball and there’s no work being done in the organization at a time when there’s a LOT of real football work and evaluation to be done. Everything stops until you get a coach and it’s all the top of the organization can concentrate on: finding a head coach and finding the right one.”

And clearly, this is taking some time because all of those internet rumors about Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer, a quick fix, etc. have been proven quite false.

Some general observations, opinions and facts are below:

•    Many believe Steve Bisciotti will choose a younger candidate because it’s the way he ran Aerotek. He’s always believed in youthful energy and finding employees who grow with the company and create the corporate culture. This would bode well for Brian Schottenheimer, Jason Garrett, Jim Schwartz and John Harbaugh.

•    Marty Schottenheimer has VERY old school ties to Ozzie Newsome, Pat Moriarty and Kevin Byrne. And it appears he won’t be employed elsewhere, so he becomes a “fallback” candidate, but everyone in the building is concerned about how a team full of renegades would react to Camp Marty come Westminster. But a Marty-led team with Rex Ryan on defense and Cam Cameron on offense remains a mysterious and intriguing combination. With Marty, they at least KNOW what they’re getting and there is some comfort in that.

•    Jim Schwartz is by far the most interesting (and perhaps polarizing) prospect. He’s a Baltimorean and it’s a dream job for him and everyone in the city and the league knows it. No doubt, he and Bisciotti will become fast friends because they’re both super smart, local and sporty. Schwartz would be an EASY sell to the community and fan base (until his first two-game losing streak!). It remains to be seen if Ozzie Newsome can get by the fact that his vision of Schwartz is one of a young, 20-something quality control assistant back in Berea before Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore. Schwartz is reportedly heading to Atlanta later in the week, and this might put some pressure on the Ravens if they’re serious about him. (But with the latest Pete Carroll rumors in Atlanta, who knows?). Many people around the league believe that Schwartz is a “natural” for the job, but his 15-year ties to the organization might actually work AGAINST him instead of FOR him. Who knows? One thing for sure: Schwartz WILL be a head coach in the NFL sometime soon. No one doubts that!

•    The initial weekend of interviews hasn’t produced any media “leaks” in regard to how the interviewing process has gone. It seems like Tony Sparano is headed to Miami. It feels like Jason Garrett will be retained and well-compensated in Dallas because Jerry Jones doesn’t want to lose him. If Jim Caldwell was a “wow” candidate, the Ravens might’ve acted a little more quickly. No one has indicated he is a prime, No. 1 candidate. Ditto Brian Schottenheimer and John Harbaugh. From most accounts, the committee as a whole isn’t “madly in love” with any of the past week’s visitors. Everyone in the room has a different “favorite” and that can’t be good.

•    Word out of Cleveland is that fears of losing Rob Chudzinski to a division rival galvanized the Browns organization to keep him outta Baltimore because the ultimate fear is that Rex Ryan is staying here no matter what.

•    Speaking of Rex Ryan (and his staff and disciples), this story will play out like a Harlequin novel no matter what direction it goes. He’s interviewing in Miami for a job that is apparently already filled. Atlanta and Washington can’t be too far off the radar as well. If he DOESN’T get a head coach job, the Ravens still retain his rights as defensive coordinator but it remains to be seen whether he’s be happy being an assistant coach here in a new regime. And what happens with the current (and highly compensated) players on the defensive side of the ball here when/if he leaves? Ryan LOVES Baltimore. He LOVES having his family here. But it’s a VERY tough professional situation he’s been put in if none of these head coaching jobs land with him in a seat. And it doesn’t really feel like the Ravens want to hire him as the head coach, because if they did, wouldn’t they just do it already and move on? That had to be the most awkward job interview of all time on Sunday: Ryan sitting across the room from a half-dozen guys he’s worked down the hall from for a decade, and trying to convince them that he’s the right guy to lead the franchise. The whole scene must’ve been bizarre. The Rex-to-Cincinnati rumors all make sense, but the Ravens aren’t going to just allow Ryan to go work for Marvin Lewis without compensation because he’s still under contract to the Ravens.

•    Today in The Sun, Mike Preston “floated” (re: created) the Marvin Lewis-to-Baltimore rumors. Far-fetched? Not as far-fetched as you might think. The Jon Gruden, Herm Edwards and Bill Belichick/Bill Parcells histories indicate that it IS possible, but certainly not very likely. Imagine Mike Brown “selling” his head coach off to a division rival for a few draft picks and some dough? But, again, if the Ravens already had a true plan in place, the plan would’ve already been put into action. No doubt, deep down, Marvin Lewis would love to be the coach of the Ravens. Mike Brown probably knows that. But who knows what Steve Bisciotti thinks of Lewis and whether the Ravens would dig down deep with draft picks and compensation to obtain him and bring him “home”? I’d call this highly unlikely, but it would no doubt be a popular acquisition in Owings Mills and throughout Baltimore. Hell, I’d PRAISE the move as well. Mike Preston certainly aided greatly in getting Brian Billick fired. Who knows? Maybe he can get Marvin Lewis hired?

•    Speaking of Billick. I finally heard from Brian at 6:25 this morning. He’s not on this continent. He’s on the beach. That’s all I can tell you.

I’m not sure anyone honestly has a lot of insight into this process because it’s been a bizarre set of circumstances not just in Owings Mills, but around the league as well with the Washington job now thrown into the mix. (And if you think Rex Ryan’s situation is weird, you should read about what his twin brother, Rob, is going through in Oakland…NFL owners are a strange breed, man!)

As a major Ravens fan, it’s interesting to watch it all develop. As a journalist and someone who is trying to “handicap” the outcome and provide accurate and detailed information, it’s frustrating and all but impossible to “guess” right.

If this were a horse race, it would be tough to put a $2 bet on any number. Matter of fact, I would NEVER bet a nickel on this race!

But here are my own personal odds (and I know a LOT more than any fan about the situation, but not NEARLY enough to be remotely accurate because the people making the decision have no handle on the outcome right now):

Rex Ryan 9-2
Marty Schottenheimer 5-1
Jim Schwartz 5-1
Jason Garrett 5-1
Jim Caldwell 8-1
Tony Sparano 10-1
Brian Schottenheimer 10-1
John Harbaugh 10-1
FIELD 12-1
Mike Singletary 25-1
Marvin Lewis 25-1
Bill Cowher 50-1
Brian Billick 100-1

As always, on-topic feedback is always welcomed.

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