There’s a Hall of Fame Coach Out There

January 03, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

Whether you loved him or hated him, none of us thought that Brian Billick would be here forever. So now as we look forward, the biggest question on the horizon is; who will be selected to lead the Ravens into their next era?
I am still trying to digest the series of events that have taken place over the past few days, and I keep coming back to one conclusion. When this all plays out, I think it will become clear that Biscioti already had a candidate in mind, and feared that he’d miss out on him if he waited another season, or maybe even another month with Billick.
I think this is a reasonable explanation. I still believe that Billick can and will be a winner again as a head coach, but even my confidence in him here was waning. If Bisciotti still had doubts about Billick, as most did, and felt that failure to act now would force him to miss out on a candidate that he already had in mind, than maybe there was no choice but to move quickly, even if he felt that Billick deserved a chance to come back and knew it might be viewed as a hasty move.
If that were true than the most likely candidate would be Rex Ryan. Ryan will certainly get his share of interviews this season, and could have been off of the market very quickly if the Ravens had drug their feet on this issue. He’s certainly someone that Bisciotti could have worked with closely enough to form an opinion of. He’s also most likely in my mind because it was evident an offer was coming from another team if he didn’t act, and he’s someone Bisciotti could be comfortable going out on a limb believing that he could get without entering into discussions beforehand. And I think that Ryan would make a fine coach.
However, based on the way that things played out this week, hiring Ryan could be a dangerous move. Because of the fact that Jay Glazer seemed to be the only one with inside knowledge of the situation, and he reported the players being polled, there is a perception that it was a mutiny that led to Billick’s dismissal. That may or may not be true, either way that is at least the public’s perception.
What the public or the media perceives is of little consequence to the bottom line, however what the players in that locker room perceive is something else altogether. If the players believe that Billick was fired because he lost them, than they may start to realize the amount of leverage that they actually have. Again, this perception will exist in the public and the media for sure; it may also exist in the locker room too, even if Bisciotti did not take the feelings of the players into account at all.
That’s why Rex could be a dangerous hire. Clearly Ryan is the players’ emphatic choice to take over the club. Apparently whatever needed to be changed in that locker room began and ended with Billick if Ryan ends up being the guy. If Ryan is selected though, than haven’t they not only allowed the players to mutiny on one coach, but to select his replacement too. Clearly at that point the perception would be that the inmates were running the asylum, even if Bisciotti had decided on Ryan months ago.
With all of that said, Rex is probably the only candidate out there who doesn’t scare me to death at this point. I just hope that Bisciotti would be able to sell it without undermining Ryan’s authority with the team.
Whoever takes over the reigns better be up for a challenge. There is a strong veteran presence and lots of ego on this team, any new coach could have difficulty getting the current group to buy in. Furthermore, expectations will be immediately high. The record of the departed coach says a lot about the expectations here. Bisciotti also seemed to indicate in his press conference that he thought he had a team that was ready to compete for the Superbowl when healthy. He clearly didn’t sound like someone resigned to rebuilding.
When Kyle Boller took over quarterbacking duties with the Ravens, the expectations were both low and high at the same time. It was assumed by most that if Boller could simply be adequate, the talent around him would be sufficient to get him to the Superbowl. I think that the new coach will face a similar challenge. This defense has been dominant for a decade; there is no reason to expect them to fall back under a new coach. Therefore, if the new coach can simply deliver our offense to the promise land of above average, we’ll be back to a championship caliber team. It’s a simple formula; fix what has been broken for 9 years, without allowing the other side of the ball to slip backward. Anything less will be a failure.
If not Rex, I’m not sure whom Bisciotti might have in mind. I heard Steve Mariucci’s name mentioned; I’ll have to think on that one for a while. While I am not sure whom, outside of Rex, I would want. There are plenty of names being circulated though, that I wouldn’t want.
First on that list would be Marty Schottenheimer. First of all, I will always believe that it was Marty’s listening to the fans and media following the loss to the Ravens last year that wound up getting him fired. The term Marty ball refers to Marty’s run-run-pass-punt mantra. Didn’t we just get rid of one of those? 
Schottenheimer has made a career of getting the most out of bad teams. I am not sure that his disciplinarian approach would work here, although it may be just what we need. His career record of 200-126-1 is impressive, but he is 5-13 overall in the playoffs. In fact, he hasn’t won a playoff game since ’93.
When Shcottenheimer’s Chargers came to Baltimore last year in week 4, they were leading 13-7 at halftime. The Chargers were shut out in the second half, and lost that game 16-13. In a season in which he went 14-2, critics of Marty ball continued to harp on that game, and the fact that the Chargers ran the ball 20 times, to just 4 passes until the games final possession where they threw 5 times. Marty ball had cost them that game.
In their first round playoff game against New England the Chargers enjoyed a 14-10 lead at the half, 14-13 at the end of the 3rd quarter and 21-13 with 5 minutes to go. The Chargers threw the ball 14 times and ran 12 in the second half before giving up the game tying touchdown and conversion. Then, with 4:36 left in the game and the score tied, the Chargers started their possession with a 5 yard run, then threw 2 incomplete passes before punting and giving up the lead. That’s 13 runs and 16 passes in the second half, all while leading or tied with plenty of time left and the league’s best running back. Was Marty starting to listen to the critics?
Whatever the cause, that game cost him his job, and I for one hope that he doesn’t find his new home here. Didn’t Bisciotti say that he was looking for a coach for the next 15 years? Marty will be 81 in 15 years. It looks like his best days are behind him and he’ll always be best remembered as a very good coach who couldn’t get it done in the playoffs, even when he seemed to have it in the bag. See the drive, the fumble, or whatever you want to call last year’s debacle.
Bill Cowher is another coach that I’d rather see somewhere else. His record is tough to argue with, 140-90-1 in the regular season, and 12-9 in the playoffs. As I said yesterday, I’ve already been forced to embrace the likes of Steve McNair, Derrick, Mason, Samari Rolle and even Kordell Stewart. Please don’t give us Cowher and intend to have him here for the next 15 years.
Cowher has his Superbowl ring, and his is shinier and newer than most. He has had his ups and downs as a coach, and his career stacks up favorably against most. There were lots of post-season disappointments to get over before he reached the summit though, and before Roethlisberger he did a good job of getting by with OK quarterbacks without really developing them. He certainly had a revolving door that would rival Billick’s, and was allowed to work through some difficult seasons.
Furthermore, Cowher has been stubborn about sticking with ineffective QBs for too long at times, which is another hot button for the Anti-Billick camp. And last year he certainly allowed his starter to play in some games where the team would have been better served with the backup, thus allowing Roethlisberger to get healthy.
My dislike for Cowher is probably more personal than anything. Winning is a great deodorant as they say, and I suppose I could come around to embracing a Cowher era if it were successful. I guess it could actually be fun to rub in the faces of the Steelers fans if he built a consistent winner here.
Lastly for now, I’d hate to see a college coach get the job and doubt that we will. I am guessing that most feel the same on this issue, but there are some intriguing names out there. I will try to get a better feel for some of the other candidates being mentioned before passing judgment. As I said, I am guessing that Bisciotti already has his guy in mind anyway.
I have said all along that I see Billick’s shortcomings as well as anyone else. I am just more afraid of the devil that I don’t know than of the one that I did. Cowher and Schottenheimer are 2 devils we do know, and both possess traits that we hated in the old coach. I am more comfortable with a devil that I don’t know than with either of these 2 devils that I do.