Jim Hostler wouldn’t be the dynamic choice as the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator, but it shouldn’t be surprising if John Harbaugh selects his wide receivers coach for the job.
The Baltimore head coach hasn’t hired an outsider for a coordinator position since Cam Cameron was chosen to run the offense in 2008. Often criticized for preferring familiarity with his hires — a common practice found across the NFL — Harbaugh has promoted from within whenever possible.
Even if Hostler wouldn’t be your first choice as the new offensive coordinator, that doesn’t mean he’s the wrong one, either. The truth is there isn’t just one right man for the job as any number of candidates could be a good fit or the wrong decision depending on a number of variables yet to be determined. You can find faults with any candidate out there, and there’s no telling how any outsider will fit within the framework of Harbaugh’s staff and connect with quarterback Joe Flacco and the other players already on the roster.
After the Ravens finished the 2013 season ranked 29th in total offense and set franchise-worst marks in the running game, there’s a natural tendency to want to blow everything up and start fresh. The desire for a new mind and voice is a legitimate one, whether the Ravens agree with the sentiment or once again lean toward continuity.
But as was the case when observers debated whether Jim Caldwell should be retained as offensive coordinator prior to his departure to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions, it’s important to remember where the Ravens were a year ago at this time as they prepared for a trip to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII. For all the criticism of Caldwell and the lack of enthusiasm for Hostler’s candidacy based on the results of 2013, the pair’s work in the 2012 postseason shouldn’t be dismissed or ignored.
Caldwell has credited Hostler on countless occasions for his help in preparing game plans after the former took over for Cameron late in the 2012 season, and the wide receivers coach relayed Caldwell’s calls from the upstairs booth to Joe Flacco’s helmet on game days. Of all the problems that plagued the Ravens offense this past season, Caldwell and Hostler didn’t suddenly become fools in the offseason after directing one of the best stretches of offensive football in franchise history last January and February.
Harbaugh has already stated that he and his coaching staff are as accountable as anyone for the offensive struggles that led to an 8-8 season, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has already pledged personnel changes. With the decision to retain run-game coordinator Juan Castillo under the official title of offensive line coach in 2014, the Ravens told you everything you need to know in regards to their view of the main problem that plagued the offense this past season.
Even with the shortcomings of the coaching staff, the personnel was the Ravens’ biggest issue in 2013 as the offensive line underperformed and was undersized, the passing game floundered without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, and the running game was abysmal with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce having career-worst seasons. Not even the ghost of Vince Lombardi could have overcome the issues up front and overall lack of playmakers to make the Ravens a productive offense.
With the proper personnel upgrades and the addition of a quarterbacks coach to work with Flacco — something Harbaugh now appears committed to — Hostler might be an appropriate compromise for a revamped offense in 2014. Newsome has vowed to add bulk to the interior offensive line as well as an impact wide receiver, changes that could help Hostler recapture what the offense was able to do late in the 2012 season.
Yes, his track record in his lone year as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers in 2007 reeks of failure — ranking 32nd in the league in yards and points scored — but Hostler was also forced to lean on the quarterbacking quartet of Trent Dilfer, Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, and Chris Weinke. And despite criticism from 49ers running back Frank Gore about his play-calling, Hostler’s leading receivers were Arnaz Battle and an inexperienced Vernon Davis, not exactly weapons that are going to make opposing defenses shift focus away from the running game.
The San Francisco offense wasn’t very good before (26th in 2006) or after (23rd in 2008) Hostler served as coordinator, and that was more than six years ago as most of us wouldn’t want to be judged permanently over what we did years ago in our respective professions. Hostler has been praised by the likes of Boldin, Derrick Mason, Torrey Smith, and Marlon Brown for the work he’s done with the wide receivers over the last six years.
Detractors will fairly ask why Harbaugh initially passed on Hostler in favor of Caldwell — a man without any experience as an offensive coordinator at the time — if the receivers coach is such a good choice for the job now, but it’s safe to say Chuck Pagano turned out to be a great fit for the defensive coordinator job in 2011 despite Greg Mattison being chosen as the successor to Rex Ryan two years earlier.
The truth is we really don’t know how well Hostler — or anyone else — would fit as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2014 and beyond until we see what improvements are made on the personnel front. The 47-year-old has seen the entire offensive road map of the Harbaugh era, witnessing what worked and what didn’t under Cameron and Caldwell and presumably learning from their mistakes in the way anyone observes his superiors and makes mental notes of what he might do differently if given the chance.
Hostler hasn’t had his chance to run the show and leave his imprint on the Baltimore offense.
And with an offseason likely to bring a number of other changes on the offensive side of the ball, some continuity within the coaching ranks might not be a bad thing.
Even if Hostler isn’t the exciting choice by any means.