Gary Kubiak remains the offensive coordinator for now, but the Ravens can read the writing on the wall.
With the 53-year-old off to Denver to interview for the Broncos’ vacant head coaching position on Sunday, head coach John Harbaugh has to think Kubiak won’t be able to pass on the opportunity to return to the organization with which he spent 20 years as a player and assistant coach. It was always going to take a unique opportunity to entice Kubiak to leave the Ravens, and that’s exactly what was presented when the Broncos parted ways with head coach John Fox less than 24 hours after Kubiak announced his intentions to stay in Baltimore.
Assuming Kubiak is on the way out in taking his dream job, where will the Ravens turn to find their fourth offensive coordinator in the last four years?
With quarterback Joe Flacco arguably having the finest regular season of his career and the Ravens setting franchise records for points scored and total yards, continuity is ideal and no one would provide more of it than quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison being promoted to offensive coordinator. It won’t be an easy sell as his ties to Kubiak and Denver are strong and many expect him to be the top candidate to serve as the new Broncos offensive coordinator if Kubiak is hired.
But Harbaugh should sell the 56-year-old Dennison on the idea of escaping Kubiak’s shadow to establish himself as a potential head coaching candidate. Instead of going to Denver and facing an uncertain situation with Peyton Manning on his last legs or even having to start over with a new quarterback, Dennison knows he could continue working with Flacco — with whom he shares a good relationship — and an offensive line that’s a perfect fit for the zone-blocking schemes he would continue to employ.
It doesn’t hurt for Harbaugh to remind Dennison that — assuming Kubiak takes the Denver job — the last two Ravens offensive coordinators will have become head coaches after only one full season on the job. It would be a unique opportunity to establish himself as someone other than Kubiak’s right-hand man.
The Ravens would be promoting a man with plenty of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator as he served in that capacity under Mike Shanahan in Denver from 2006-2008 and with Kubiak in Houston from 2010-2013.
The biggest key for the Ravens maintaining the offensive momentum created in 2014 will be finding a coordinator whose system fits well with the methods the offensive line employed after a disastrous 2013 campaign. Dennison wouldn’t figure to change too much if he does remain in Baltimore and appears to be the only viable in-house candidate as tight ends coach Brian Pariani has just one year of experience as an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level and it came with a 2005 Syracuse team that went 1-10.
If Dennison does head to Denver to become Kubiak’s offensive coordinator, the Ravens could take another long look at Kyle Shanahan, whom they interviewed last offseason when Jim Caldwell left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions. His ties to Kubiak also make him a candidate to wind up as the Broncos offensive coordinator, but he left a positive impression with the Ravens last year and could jump at the chance to work with Flacco and such a solid offensive line.
His post-2013 dismissal as part of his father’s staff in Washington was difficult and he had to work with mediocre quarterback play in Cleveland as the Browns offensive coordinator this past year, but Shanahan ran successful offenses in Houston as well as in Robert Griffin’s rookie season in 2012. The 35-year-old is perceived by some as having a bigger ego than his résumé justifies, but his offensive philosophies would figure to mesh well with what Kubiak and Dennison started in 2014.
Of course, the Ravens face key personnel decisions with running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Torrey Smith, and tight end Owen Daniels becoming free agents and the future of tight end Dennis Pitta unclear, but they’d like to avoid blowing up the foundation established in 2014.
If Kubiak does leave, persuading Dennison to stay or bringing in Shanahan appear to be the best ways to continue building in the same direction.