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Live From Owings Mills: John Harbaugh’s Weekly Press Conference

Posted on 14 September 2010 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh held the first of his weekly regular season press conferences today at 1 Winning Drive.

Amongst the highlights from today’s conversation:

-Harbaugh says TE Todd Heap “should practice tomorrow” despite suffering a shoulder injury during the Ravens’ penultimate possession Monday night at New Meadowlands Stadium. “It looks like he’s okay” added Harbaugh regarding the former Pro Bowl TE; who dove for a Joe Flacco pass on first down, making a spectacular catch in the process.

-When asked if scratching CB Lardarius Webb from the win over the New York Jets had more to do with pain Webb was feeling or something in warmups the coaches weren’t seeing, Harbaugh responded “all of the above.” He added that Webb was still going through the “healing process” after returning from a torn ACL and the team does not want to rush him back. Regarding his status for Sunday afternoon’s AFC North tilt against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, Harbaugh said “I thought he had a chance to play last week, he wasn’t able to do it. I think he has a chance to play this week…it’s going to be his decision in the end.”

-Harbaugh said Tom Zbikowski’s performance as punt returner was “disappointing”, but said he had a “good conversation” with Zbikowski on the train ride home from East Rutherford and believes the safety “will learn from” his performance. However, Harbaugh did not commit to Zbikowski continuing to be the permanent option at punt returner, saying CB Chris Carr could still be in the mix.

-Harbaugh thought OL Marshal Yanda and OL Chris Chester “did really well” after being shuffled into roles as RT and RG respectively. “I think they’re ready to do it” said Harbaugh, who said Yanda would continue to be a long term option if starting RT Jared Gaither is unable to return.

-Harbaugh said he had no update on rookie LB Sergio Kindle, who remains unsigned. “I wish I did” said Harbaugh. Kindle was in Charm City last weekend to be looked over by neurologists. Harbaugh did not field questions about injured Ravens Gaither (back), DT Terrence Cody (knee) or OLB/DE Paul Kruger (shoulder).

NOTES:
Hear from Harbaugh NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net……The Ravens reached injury settlements with OT Stefan Rodgers (ankle) and OL David Hale (tailbone), both of whom had been on Injured Reserve. Both are no longer on the team’s roster……Bill Macatee and former Oakland Raiders QB Rich Gannon will call Sunday’s Ravens-Bengals game for CBS, which can be seen locally on WJZ 13……The Ravens return to the practice field tomorrow; Harbaugh, Flacco, RB Ray Rice, LB Ray Lewis, WR Derrick Mason and others are expected to be available in formal media sessions. The Cincinnati Bengals will provide conference calls with coach Marvin Lewis and WR Chad Ochocinco for members of the Baltimore media.

-G

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Live From Owings Mills: Houshmandzadeh Says Bengals Coaches “Nervous” Before Facing Ravens

Posted on 07 September 2010 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens introduced newly signed WR TJ Houshmandzadeh to the local media Tuesday, and the former Pro Bowler wasted no time providing quotes that were ready to be passed around via Twitter all day.

The first question asked of Houshmandzadeh was whether or not the confidence of former Cincinnati Bengals and Oregon State Beavers teammate Chad Ochocinco rubbed off on him. His response?

“I rubbed off on him. That’s just the truth.”

Houshmandzadeh proved to be just as entertaining if not quite as comical as his former Cincy teammate; offering memorable quotes throughout the introductory session.

When asked his feelings about leaving a losing team like the Seattle Seahawks for greener pastures with the Ravens, Houshmandzadeh said “it’s refreshing…it’s hard to optimistic when you know what you’re going against.”

When asked whether it would be a little weird to put on a Ravens jersey after playing eight years in the Queen City, he quipped “it was a little weird putting on my helmet today…but I look forward to it man. I’ve been on a lot of losing teams in my career.”

When asked about his potential role in the Ravens offense with established receivers like Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason around him, he responded “I don’t know…that will play itself out over the course of the season. We’ll see what happens. But I’m a firm believer that if you show the coaches that they should get you involved, then they’ll get you involved. That’s what I plan on doing every day when it’s time to practice.”

When asked about the end of his tenure in the Emerald City, Houshmandzadeh replied “I can promise you, me not being there has nothing to do with football.”

And then of course there was the quote that has become an immediate sensation on Twitter-already “re-Tweeted” by the likes of Ravens FB Le’Ron McClain and Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Joe Reedy. The quote where Houshmandzadeh explained that Bengals coaches would be “nervous” before the team would face the Ravens’ defense.

“I used to always tell the coaches-and Marvin (Lewis) knows this-’Marvin, tell the coaches-why are they nervous? They’re not the ones playing’. They would be nervous like they were the ones playing.”

Houshmandzadeh brought a positive attitude and an engaging back and forth to his first press conference as a Raven. He showed why he has been a popular figure in the NFL since he was selected in the 7th round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

In the end, Houshmandzadeh’s personality won’t define his tenure in Charm City. His production on the field, his ability to work with QB Joe Flacco and fellow receivers Mason and Boldin will have much to do with how his tenure is defined. Whether or not the Ravens can go on to win the AFC North and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl will be equally important when judging Houshmandzadeh’s time with the Ravens.

Houshmandzadeh signed just a one year deal with the Ravens, but could factor in to the long terms plans of Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and company should the 2010 season play out the well all parties clearly hope it will. The receiver said he would like to stick around longer “if everything falls into place” when asked about his future Tuesday.

If he’s as entertaining on the field as he is off, he’ll have every opportunity to stick around.

NOTES
: Hear from Houshmandzadeh NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net……Houshmandzadeh was introduced at his press conference by WR Coach Jim Hostler……The start of the press conference was delayed after Houshmandzadeh bumped into Flacco in the halls at 1 Winning Drive

-G

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Live from Westminster: Cody passes conditioning test, vets checking into hotel

Posted on 28 July 2010 by Luke Jones

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Good afternoon from McDaniel College as the Ravens have wrapped up their second day of partial-squad workouts with the biggest news being the debut of rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody who passed his conditioning test earlier this morning and participated fully in the morning workout.

This was obviously good news to coach John Harbaugh, who expressed pleasant surprise when learning the 350-pound tackle had passed the test. Rookie cornerback Prince Miller also passed the conditioning test and practice while the status of the other members of the PUP list remained unchanged for the morning session.

As for action on the field, it was another light, non-contact workout with players practicing in shells and shorts. Harbaugh will give the afternoon off to selected veterans already in camp as we await the arrival of the remaining veterans this afternoon.

Check back here throughout the day for updates (time-stamped below) and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest updates from the field.

____________________________________________________________

5:30 p.m. — The Ravens have wrapped up the afternoon practice as the veterans continue to check into Westminster for training camp.

Most selected veterans who reported on Monday were given the afternoon off with the exception of a few practice squad players and the four quarterbacks on the roster.

In what might qualify as the first minor injury issue occurring at practice, defensive tackle Terrence Cody appeared to be suffering from a cramp in his right calf at the conclusion of practice. Members of the training staff with icing his lower leg, and the big man eventually walked off the field, albeit gingerly.

Receiver Marcus Smith had an impressive afternoon, snagging a bullet from Joe Flacco in the back of the end zone during a red zone drill. Smith is recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the preseason last year.

Backup quarterback Troy Smith threw what would have been a “pick-6″ to rookie linebacker Albert McClellan at the goal line during the same red zone drill. McClellan has been impressive in the first two days of non-contact practice but doesn’t figure to factor into the team’s plans with an already deep linebacker unit.

We’ll next see the Ravens in action on Friday morning with the first full-squad workout at 8:45 a.m. Thursday is a team administrative day with all activity closed to the media and public.

2:45 p.m. — We’re counting down the minutes until the 3:30 workout, and I’m getting ready to head out to the field. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates. Perhaps a few of the veterans will stop by the upper fields at McDaniel College for a brief visit?

2:40 p.m. — Updating the status of Matt Birk, the veteran center has been placed on the PUP list after a minor elbow procedure earlier this offseason. It had previously been speculated Birk was dealing with a neck issue.

He isn’t expected to be on the PUP list for very long.

2:15 p.m. — As we await the start of the afternoon practice at 3:30, the veterans are beginning to trickle into the team hotel. Some to arrive already include Rice, Donte’ Stallworth (who was given a ride by the Pro Bowl running back), Antwan Barnes, Chris Chester, Tom Zbikowski, Ben Grubbs, and new impact receiver Anquan Boldin.

The arriving veterans will take their physicals this afternoon after checking into the Best Western.

12:45 p.m. — Given his time in Philadelphia and the Bengals appearing to be the biggest roadblock to the division title, Harbaugh was asked about his thoughts on the Bengals signing Terrell Owens to a one-year contract on Tuesday.

“I really like T.O.,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s a really good player. He’s a guy that we enjoyed being around for a couple years in Philly. I have a lot of respect for him. Obviously, it makes [Cincinnati] better.”

Marvin Lewis will have his hands full in Cincinnati with Owens joining flamboyant wideout Chad Ochocinco in the Bengals passing offense. It has the makings of a compelling reality TV show despite the headaches it may create for the former Ravens defensive coordinator.

“Marvin doesn’t need our sympathy,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from the media. “He’s not looking for it.”

12:40 p.m. — As mentioned before, it was another light day of practice this morning, but I thought I’d pass along a few notes of interest from the workout:

Matt Birk was on the field but did not participate as reports indicated he has been placed on the PUP list with a neck issue. He and Oniel Cousins (recovering from throat surgery) stood by the offensive linemen throughout practice.

During red zone drills (non-contact), rookie tight end Dennis Pitta was flagged for offensive pass interference after pushing off against Miller.

Receiver Mark Clayton—now battling for the No. 3 or 4 spot on the depth chart after starting for several seasons—caught a deep touchdown pass from Joe Flacco in the highlight play of the morning.

Backup quarterback Marc Bulger continues to be in more of a learning mode as he did not take too many reps during passing drills. Bulger, however, did work on plays later  during a walk-through portion of practice.

12:28 p.m. — Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has just walked into the Best Western in Westminster, announcing his arrival at training camp.

12:25 p.m. — Though we’ve discussed the conditioning test for the last few days, Harbaugh finally explained what the test entails this morning after practice.

“It’s basically six [150-yard runs] in 25-yard intervals,” Harbaugh said. “Every position has a time, and then there’s a designated rest time that’s based on how long it takes to recover. It’s pretty well thought out.”

In other words, the time for a defensive tackle like Cody is not the same as the expectation for a defensive back such as Domonique Foxworth.

12:10 p.m. — Cody obviously expressed relief at the conclusion of his first practice after being cleared to play.

“It felt good [passing the test],” he said. “It was hard at first when I came in yesterday. I knew about the test, but I didn’t quite know how to run it.”

The 350-pound tackle failed the conditioning test on two occasions on Tuesday. Cody admits he still needs to improve his conditioning during training camp.

“It’s pretty good, but I can get better,” he said. “There’s always a lot of room for improvement. That’s what I had a talk with [Harbaugh], and it’s just I can get a lot better before the season starts.”

Despite some ribbing from defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and a few teammates on Tuesday, Cody received plenty of report as he prepared to take the conditioning test Tuesday morning.

“They weren’t too hard on him,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “That’s a tough task.”

11:55 a.m. — While John Harbaugh expressed a desire for rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody—who claims to be right around his listed weight of 349 pounds—to shed a few more pounds before the start of the regular season, it was clear how pleased the head coach was with Cody passing the test early this morning before the 8:45 workout.

“I have to admit I was surprised this morning,” said Harbaugh, who rarely shows such candor when talking about a player’s health or conditioning.

Harbaugh reiterated this morning he wasn’t terribly surprised Cody had failed the test, admitting it poses a challenge to new players, veterans and rookies alike.

“It’s more demaning than most teams I’d say.”

As stated above, rookie free agent Prince Miller also passed the conditioning test, but veteran cornerback Walt Harris, who failed the test on Tuesday, did not practice on Wednesday morning, an indication he has yet to pass it.

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Former NFL Coach Dan Reeves on AFC North: “You’re Talking About One of The Better Divisions In The National Football League Without Question”

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Former NFL Coach Dan Reeves on AFC North: “You’re Talking About One of The Better Divisions In The National Football League Without Question”

Posted on 23 July 2010 by Ryan Chell

Dan Reeves
Dan Reeves, a former NFL head coach for the Broncos, Giants and Falcons, has been around the game of football for a long time.

In his 23-year coaching career, Reeves has a career mark of 190-165, and is 11-9 in the postseason. Despite never winning a Super Bowl as a coach,  he won four conference titles with the Broncos and Falcons, and made it to the playoffs nine times.

He was a quarterback and wide receiver for the Cowboys in his playing days back in the late 60′s and early 70′s, throwing a touchdown pass in the “Ice Bowl” of 1967 against the Packers, missing a ball that the Colts intercepted in Super Bowl V, and finally winning a championship as a player in 1971 in Super Bowl VI.

And since leaving the coaching ranks after 2003 and experimenting with some job opportunities, Reeves has had an opportunity to watch the NFL as a fan, and most recently, as a commentator for Westwood One Radio on Sunday NFL games.

As training camp starts for the majority of the NFL teams next week, Reeves was able to spend a few minutes with WNST’s own Rex Snider to talk about the AFC North, a division he knows all too well.

In the 80′s when Reeves was the coach of the Broncos, Reeves was involved in several big games against the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs. With John Elway as his quarterback after getting him in a trade with the Baltimore Colts, Reeves coached in the games that featured “The Drive” in the 1987 AFC Championship Game against the Browns, and the following year, the Browns handed the Broncos the AFC Title on a play ultimately known as “The Fumble“, as future Raven Earnest Byner, on his way to score the game-tying touchdown, fumbled the ball and the Broncos won the game.

Earnest Byner's

The Drive

And Reeves’ owning of the Browns continued in 1989, when the Broncos beat the Browns for their third AFC Championship in four years, but remember; Elway and the Broncos never won the Super Bowl until 1997-1998. And they then beat Reeves for Elway’s second and final championship the following year when Reeves was coaching the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons.

Reeves told Snider that the AFC North may be the toughest division in all of football.

“It always is an interesting league and every year you get surprises,” Reeves said. “Teams go from last place to first place, and you’re talking about one of the better divisions in the National Football League without question.”

Snider asked Reeves to go through the AFC North’s coaches and give an opinion on each of their situations. He started with the lowly Browns, who are no where close to being the franchise  he remembers from back in the 80′s.

But Reeves did say that owner Randy Lerner did take some steps in the right direction this year by bringing in Mike Holmgren to rebuild the team from a personnel perspective, as well as retaining coach Eric Mangini who made some good decisions in the team’s four-game winning streak at the end of the season.

“Mike Holmgren has been successful everywhere he’s been, so there’s no reason to think that given time, that he’s not going to be able to turn that franchise around and make them one of those teams that you have to contend with every year in that division.”

Mike Holmgren's New Job-Rebuild the Browns

Next, Reeves addressed some concerns about the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for at least the first four games of the season, and could be lost for up to six.

“Its unfortunate that their quarterback is going to be out the first four games. You could make a little bit of a cushion there, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are always tough.”

But Reeves did say that if there was any coach in the league to get his team out of a jam like that, it’s Mike Tomlin. Reeves has personally seen him at work.

Mike Tomlin

“I went into some of their meetings, and was able to observe Mike Tomlin. The one thing that you pick up on very quickly is that the players really enjoy playing for him. That’s one thing the coach has to earn is respect, especially when you take over for someone like Bill Cowher.”

“I think Mike Tomlin has shown that he deserves all the credit in the world for taking them to a championship, and last year was one of those unusual years where you get too many injuries and couldn’t overcome them. There’s not too many teams in the league who can overcome those types of injuries and be competitive.”

But Reeves said that the loss of Roethlisberger is going to be felt longer than just the games he misses. He is going to be a step behind when he returns, because the rhythm, timing, and cohesiveness of the team is going to be different when he finally returns under center.

“Not only are they going to miss him, but his ability to practice with the players for that period of time, that’s going to be very difficult for them. The timing, the continuity, all the things you need, it’s going to be difficult for them to overcome them. It’s not to say that they cant.  A lot of times teams rally and know that everybody needs to pick up the slack and play a little bit harder.”

And the Steelers certainly aren’t a young team by any stretch of the imagination. And they are injury-prone, with All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu missing time last year, hurting their playoff chances.

“Missing Troy Polamalu last year was huge for them, ” said Reeves. “He is a catalyst on that defense. When he is flying around, they’re making an awful lot of  plays. So if they can get everyone else healthy, they might be able to overcome that. But its going to be an uphil struggle.”

While a lot of the people that follow the NFL are already crowning the Ravens as division-and even Super Bowl champs, don’t forget-the Bengals are the reigning division champs. And they too had a good off-season and draft, bringing in Antonio Bryant to complement Chad Ocho Cinco as well as drafting Jermaine Gresham to give quarterback Carson Palmer more offensive weapons.

But Reeves said the Bengals’ chances of repeating are mainly going to lie on their defense, and if head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can make lightning strike twice.

Bengals DC Mike Zimmer

“Mike Zimmer did an outstanding job, and overcame some personal adversity last year. That football team played extremely well. And Marvin does a great job. The one thing you know about him, he’s consistent year in and year out. He doesn’t change. If he gets himself surrounded with some good football players, which they came up last year  and did that, it’s going to be interesting what they can do this year.”

But Reeves had to save his greatest respect for the Ravens, who by his imagination, do also appear to be the favorites to win the division based on their moves.

Reeves said the real strength of the Ravens though may be that they have the best coaching staff in the league, and it all starts at the top with John Harbaugh.

“They have a great coaching staff. And I think John Harbaugh has done an outstanding job with the Baltimore Ravens.”

And the two offensive coaches the Ravens have in Cam Cameron and newly acquired quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn should be a great fit for Baltimore and Joe Flacco this year.

“Cam Cameron is as good an offensive coordinator as there is in the NFL. And now to have those kind of weapons. He does a great job of being innovative with the people he has. And now you have a quarterback that’s got another year under his belt. I like what they do.”

“Jim is an outstanding offensive mind, and he is really a great quarterbacks coach. He is a guy that got the most out of his ability.  And he really came through and became a great quarterback in this league. He’s just going to get better and better. He is just one of the fine young, veteran quarterback coaches and I think he’ll do  great job with Flacco.”

Jim Zorn

And when looking at the schedule for some of the teams in this division this year, Reeves said he has already penciled in one game that he hopes he is not doing a game that day.

It’s the Week 13 match-up between the Steelers and the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday Night Football. That’s a game where Reeves just wants to sit back and enjoy it.

“That’s one you always look forward to because it’s like the black and blue division. In particular when those two teams play, I guarantee I’m going to be one who wants to sit right in front of the television and watch that one.”

Stay tuned to WNST as we are 3 days away from the start of Ravens training camp! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Batltimore Sports!

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Ravens Announce 2010 Regular Season Schedule

Posted on 20 April 2010 by Glenn Clark

Here is the official release from the Ravens…

For Immediate Release
2010 RAVENS SCHEDULE

RAVENS SCHEDULE FEATURES FIVE PRIMETIME GAMES, INCLUDING FOUR IN REGULAR SEASON
The Baltimore Ravens open the 2010 regular season at the New York Jets’ new Meadowlands Stadium on Monday night, Sept. 13. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN.
The Ravens’ difficult slate has the team opening with back-to-back road games against 2009 playoff teams. The Jets earned a spot in last year’s AFC Championship game, while Baltimore’s second opponent, the Bengals, won the AFC North after sweeping the division with a 6-0 mark. Baltimore is at Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 19, after opening at the Jets.
The Jets and Bengals are both coached by former Ravens defensive coordinators: Rex Ryan at New York and Marvin Lewis at Cincinnati.
This is the first time in team history that the Ravens will open the season with consecutive road games. “It’s a challenging schedule, and with the number of primetime games, it’s flattering,” team president Dick Cass said. “We’ve made the playoffs two years in a row – and three of the last four seasons – and it’s evident that the NFL believes we will be highly competitive again.”
Along with the opener at the Jets and the preseason opener on Aug. 12 against Carolina, which will be broadcast on ESPN, the Ravens will play three other primetime games. Baltimore will be at Atlanta on Thursday night, Nov. 11, in a game televised by the NFL Network. In an event that will delight Ravens fans, Baltimore will also host the Steelers on Sunday night, Dec. 5. On the following Monday (Dec. 13), the Ravens will play at the Houston Texans.
The Ravens have also appeared in four primetime games in four previous regular seasons: 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2007. “If you look at the last three games of the new schedule, you can see that we’ll be playing significant games that could be candidates for a move to Sunday night,” Cass added.
With road games at Pittsburgh on Oct. 3 and at New England on Oct. 17, the Ravens will play three of their first four and four of their first six games on the road. Baltimore’s first regular season game at M&T Bank Stadium will be Sept. 26, when the Browns make their annual visit. Denver and Buffalo come to Baltimore on Oct. 10 and Oct. 24, respectively.
“We’re excited about the 2010 season,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We knew who we were playing, and now we know when we’ll be playing them. We’re not a team that focuses on any game except the next one. We now have targets for the preseason and the regular season.”
Baltimore’s bye, Oct. 31, comes after seven games and is followed by a home contest against the Dolphins on Nov. 7. After the Thursday night battle at Atlanta (Nov. 11), the Ravens play at Carolina (Nov. 21). Baltimore completes a three-game set against NFC South teams when Tampa Bay visits on Nov. 28.
The Ravens host the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints on Dec. 19 in the short week following the Monday night game at Houston (Dec. 13). The Ravens finish the regular season with back-to-back divisional games at Cleveland on Dec. 26 and against Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 2, 2011.

2010 BALTIMORE RAVENS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
DATE            OPPONENT        PLACE   TIME
Mon.    Sept. 13        at New York Jets        Meadowlands Stadium     7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Sun.    Sept. 19        at Cincinnati Bengals   Paul Brown Stadium      1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Sept. 26        CLEVELAND BROWNS        M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Oct. 3  at Pittsburgh Steelers  Heinz Field      1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Oct. 10 DENVER BRONCOS  M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Oct. 17 at New England Patriots Gillette Stadium        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Oct. 24 BUFFALO BILLS   M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Oct. 31 BYE
Sun.    Nov. 7  MIAMI DOLPHINS  M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.
Thurs.  Nov. 11 at Atlanta Falcons      Georgia Dome    8:20 p.m. (NFL Network)
Sun.    Nov. 21*        at Carolina Panthers    Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Nov. 28*        TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS    M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Dec. 5* PITTSBURGH STEELERS     M&T BANK STADIUM        8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Mon.    Dec. 13 at Houston Texans       Reliant Stadium 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Sun.    Dec. 19*        NEW ORLEANS SAINTS      M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Dec. 26*        at Cleveland Browns     Cleveland Browns Stadium        1:00 p.m.
Sun.    Jan. 2* CINCINNATI BENGALS      M&T BANK STADIUM        1:00 p.m.

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Head Coach Wanted – No Experience Necessary

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Head Coach Wanted – No Experience Necessary

Posted on 19 January 2010 by Thyrl Nelson

The NFL is a copycat league, there’s no denying that. Every off season, like clockwork, teams of little fortune try like mad to emulate the successful practices that they’ve seen implemented by other clubs. It’s a league of trends, and those left behind said trends are likely to find themselves out of contention and likewise out of favor with their fans.

One of the interesting new trends in the NFL of late has been the propensity of teams to look beyond the usual suspects in attempting to fill their head coaching positions. Perhaps in no small part due to the recent success of such upstart coaches as Mike Tomlin of the Steelers or the trio of rookie coaches in John Harbaugh, Mike Smith and Tony Sparano who all led their teams to playoff appearances in their rookie campaigns last season, teams have all seemingly begun to reach for the next young star in coaching.

 

After the early successes of Harbaugh, Smith and Sparano, the NFL reacted in kind. Eight head coaches were hired last off-season, and among them, only Mike Singletary who had coached a handful of games as the interim coach had previous NFL head coaching experience. What’s more, at the start of the 2009 season, only 3 of 32 NFL coaches even had rings as head coaches, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Mike Tomlin.

 

It’s probably a good thing that Superbowl credentialed coaches like Brian Billick, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher have settled nicely into the TV ranks, because based on current trends, it could be quite some time before the league could consider them attractive coaching candidates again. Guys like those are left hoping these days that the likes of Coughlin or Mike Shanahan can do big things in regard to reversing the current trend.

 

Look no further than Shanahan’s own situation to illustrate how far the plight of the recycled head coach has come. Do you really think that Washington was on Shanahan’s short list of attractive destinations before gauging the lack of perceived interest that the market seemingly had in him?

 

If this season had proven anything however, it may have proven that finding the next young rock star coach may be easier said than done. Of the 8 aforementioned head coaching positions filled last off-season, only Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell saw their fortunes advance beyond the regular season. The rest of those teams are left to ponder whether their leap of faith was actually the right move.

 

In the playoffs however, a surprising, if not disturbing trend has arisen this season. In the 8 playoff games staged so far this season, all but one have been won by the teams with the least experienced coaches. Among the 3 coaches who went into 2009 with   Superbowl hardware, only one even qualified for the playoffs, and for his efforts, Belichick’s Patriots were rewarded with perhaps the playoffs’ most unceremonious ouster.

 

In the opening weekend, second year coach John Harbaugh watched his Ravens bounce the Patriots along with Bill Belichick, his 15 seasons of experience (10 in New England) and his three Superbowl rings right out of the playoffs. Additionally, Ken Whisenhunt, in his 3rd season saw his Cardinals eliminate the Packers led by Mike McCarthy in his 4th season at the helm. Rookie Jets’ coach Rex Ryan saw his team take out Marvin Lewis’ Bengals, in Lewis’ 7th season as head coach. And in the read between the lines match up, Andy Reid in his 11th season in charge of the Eagles lost to Wade Phillips, whose coaching career began 6 seasons before Reid’s, but Phillips only has 8 total seasons spread out over 3 cities of head coaching experience, and has only been in charge of the Cowboys since 2007.

 

The second round saw the only upset to the trend when 4th year coach Sean Payton saw his Saints eliminate Whisenhunt’s Cardinals. Otherwise, Brad Childress in his 4th season and the Vikings took out Phillips’ Cowboys, and a pair of rookies in Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell beat out the oft-recycled Norv Turner and the grizzled second year vet in Harbaugh.

 

None of that likely gives us any indication of which way to go this weekend, as both championship games will feature head coaches of equal tenure. Childress and Payton, both in the head coaching ranks since 2006 will meet on the NFC side, while a couple of rookies in Caldwell and Ryan will duel it out for the AFC. And once the dust settles in 3 weeks, one thing will be for sure, there will be one more coach going into next season with that elusive Superbowl hardware, as a first timer is now guaranteed to win; it’s just matter of which first timer.

 

Experience is a funny thing. In a 16 game NFL season, every game is bound to pose a new quandary, we’ve seen evidence of that here in Baltimore over the last 2 seasons, as Harbaugh has found his way admirably, but has also endured a lot of lessons learned on the job. For years, we’ll be left to debate whether the Ravens’ success over the last two seasons happened as a result of the Harbaugh regime, or despite it. Hindsight will surely show that at least a few of the young coaches who saw success this season would fall into the latter category.

 

One thing that’s probably not debatable though, is that Harbaugh is surely a better coach today than he was two years ago. Heck, he’s probably a better coach today than he was on Saturday in Indy. Experience is what’s made him better, and what will continue to do so.

 

Why experience is no longer seemingly valued in the NFL is beyond me, but that seems to be the trend. It could make things very interesting going forward, as most of the veteran candidates for head coaching jobs will likely have to gravitate to college or coordinators’ jobs until their stocks rise again. If the NFL is a coordinators league anyway, the impact on the field could be interesting.

 

Once upon a time, experience made you rich; now, in the NFL at least, it just makes you undesirable. In this league though, everything is subject to change on a moment’s notice. Something tells me that there are a lot of former coaches secretly cheering for Coughlin and Shanahan.

 

 

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Accomplishment of 2nd Straight Playoff Trip Can’t Go Unnoticed

Posted on 03 January 2010 by Glenn Clark

I understand why the excitement isn’t what it was a season ago.

A season ago, the Baltimore Ravens began the season with a rookie QB, a first year head coach and no expectations; which made a return to the playoffs particularly sweet for fans throughout Charm City.

But entering this season, last year’s run to the AFC Championship Game lead many fans to adopt a “Super Bowl or bust” type motto. Amazingly, the Ravens will be one of just 12 teams who will be alive in the race for the Vince Lombardi Trophy come Monday morning-despite the “I’m not sure they even belong” attitude a number of fans have adopted.

There’s reason for the less than enthusiastic emotions that fans in town have adopted. This Ravens team has been less than overwhelming this season-beating just one playoff team (San Diego in Week 2) en route to clinching a Wild Card berth against the Raiders Sunday in Oakland. The Ravens finished the season with 6 straight losses against teams who qualified for postseason play, and mixed in a loss to the Steelers-who will miss the playoffs despite posting a record equal to the 9-7 mark the Ravens posted this season. Joe Flacco appeared to regress in his 2nd season, and John Harbaugh made the type of mental mistakes that coaches probably SHOULDN’T make in their second season. The Ravens’ Wide Receivers have been troubling, and their secondary has been terrible at times.

The remarkable thing about all of this is that all of the problems the Ravens have been forced to overcome have happened during a season in which they reached the playoffs for a 2nd straight year for only the 2nd time in franchise history.

There’s a slew of players and coaches around the NFL who aren’t going to be participating in a 2nd straight postseason. The list includes Matt Ryan, Mike Smith, Tony Sparano, Brett Favre, Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Marvin Lewis, Tony Romo, Wade Phillips, Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, Jeff Fisher, Chris Johnson, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Drew Brees, Sean Payton and John Fox. (Others-like Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Singletary and more will fail to reach even a single postseason over the 24 month span.)

Get the point?

Reaching the postseason in back to back seasons is a MAJOR accomplishment. The Ravens will be able to make money, gain exposure and build on their franchise history over at least the next week if not the next month. It will be remarkably difficult for them to go to Foxborough and beat the Patriots, but they might. Whether or not they do, they will have had an outstanding season.

It doesn’t change the problems this team faces. They will still need to overhaul their receivers in the offseason-but they will be doing it in an offseason where they are coming off a 2nd straight trip to the playoffs. The Steelers can’t say the same thing about their secondary overhaul this offseason.

It’s a big deal.

It’ll be a bigger deal if they’re still alive in 7 days.

-G

(If you’d like to join us at Gillette Stadium next Saturday, click the “Trips” tab at WNST.net)

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4th Day Of Christmas ….

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4th Day Of Christmas ….

Posted on 21 December 2009 by Rex Snider

Damn the snow !!!!

Damn the Chicago Bears Travel Secretary !!!!

Damn these lists of holiday gifts !!!!

I’m going broke, and my blogs are suffering. At this rate, my “12 Days Of Christmas” are gonna take about 3 weeks. I’m running behind schedule – but I’m dedicated to catch up. So, stay tuned – OFTEN.

Today, I’m handing out the special gift of HUMILITY.

That’s right, some folks need a sweet dose (or sour ….) of it, and I’m ensuring they receive a fair portion, as a Christmas gift.
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JOHN HARBAUGH
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I’ll admit it, I’ve been pretty hard on the Ravens Head Coach, throughout this 2009 season. I’m not being personally disparaging, I just think we’ve finally observed some consistencies (and inconsistencies) that suggest he has some work to do – on his coaching game …..

If he’s being honest with himself – and his players, I would think Coach Harbaugh has some serious soul searching on the front burner of his Monday evening. While he won’t publicly admit it, Harbaugh has a problem with Chris McAlister. Everyone suspects it.

I get the whole concept of exiling players, and sticking them on the equivalent of the “Island Of Misfit Toys.” Respect and honor are key with many coaches. And, Chris McAlister probably did a few things we’ll never know.

But, John Harbaugh might very well find himself at a humbling intersection, as we sit just 4 days from Christmas, and 6 days from a trip to Heinz Field. Who’s covering Santonio Holmes? How about Hines Ward? Umm, Mike Wallace? Did you consider Heath Miller?

Maybe, we should try this guy …..

I can’t fathom the thought of going forward with the in-house corps of cornerbacks. I know John Harbaugh is dedicated to the TEAM concept and “Playing Like A Raven.” Well, Coach, that goes for YOU, too.

There is a locker room full of guys who’ve busted their asses, since late July. What do they deserve? Lets start with giving them the best chance to win – even if it means sitting down with Chris McAlister and seeing if a short-term marriage is in the best interest of both halves.

Call Sean Payton …..

Ask him why he signed McAlister. Ask him why he cut him? Ask him if McAlister’s short tenure affected the team negatively.

Better yet, just look at the current RAVENS and ask yourself, “what do they deserve?”

Coach Harbaugh is being wished some humility – and a sobering vision, for Christmas.
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CHRIS McALISTER
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Yeah, dude, you’re not blameless in this standoff. In fact, I’m imagining you’re probably 95% at fault.

It’s quite easy for me to toss criticism at John Harbaugh – he’s expected to be the “bigger man” and lead by a professional decorum and example. And, he’s pretty much done that.

He hasn’t thrown you under the bus, publicly, one time. While it’s pretty obvious you guys haven’t exchanged Christmas cards, he’s been respectful of your image and public character, as far as the media and fans are concerned.

I would be interested in knowing if Chris McAlister has done anything to resurrect a sliver of his broken relationship with the Ravens Head Coach. He has the ties – he can get to him.

Where is Chris McAlister?

You should be appearing at any and every public service event. It’s CHRISTMAS ….. go find a cameraman, and hand out a turkey !!!!

Or a toy !!!!

Or some money !!!!

It’s all about perception, and it’s also about being humble. You did this. You caused the divorce. I’ve beat up John Harbaugh, because he hasn’t reconvened with your conflicted butt. You wanna play football?

What steps have you taken to mend the fence?

Chris McAlister needs the gift of humility, especially as he confronts a life that probably needs some straightening – beyond the football field.
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REX SNIDER

Well, I don’t think this has ever happened. Have I ever included myself, as a “sub-topic” of a blog?

I don’t think so.

But, I’m not immune to discerning treatment – especially as it regards a legitimate shortcoming. How do they say it ….. “if the shoe fits?”

I’ll be quite honest, and say I’m really disappointed in myself. While I appreciate this forum and virtual freedom to write (and say) about things desired, I also expect a responsibility from myself.

Yes, I expect more from ME.

For the past few weeks, I’ve seized numerous opportunities to pry on the personal life of Tiger and Elin Woods. While, I absolutely believe I haven’t been disparaging, I have walked into a couple’s “no go” zones.

I do think Tiger’s life is an open book. He’s a celebrity – and pitchman for commercial products. Thus, he’s accountable for a very public image. If he fails to uphold that image, he’ll be held to task.

But, his personal situation is not funny. It’s embarrassing and it’s sad. There are numerous victims in this situation – who can be further hurt by those with media credentials.

While I don’t think my past remarks infringe on Tiger’s family – a man’s family is none of my business. I’ll concentrate on being the best dad and husband, possible. And, leave Tiger and others to managing their own.

This is my humble wish for ME.
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The People Around Chris Henry

Chris Henry’s funeral is set for tomorrow. Many members of the NFL’s collective family are expected to travel to Gretna, Louisiana, to pay their final respects to the veteran wide receiver.

I’m certain we’ll see and hear and collection of poignant and touching remembrances. As with most funerals, I’m sure dry eyes will be hard to find. This is the way people grieve and it’s purely natural.

However, in the coming weeks and months, someone – ANYONE with a connection to the National Football League and Chris Henry must step forward and speak in sobering fashion about the often troubled young man. It’s the only way to truly learn from his brief, but interrupted life.

Will it be Chad Ochocinco? If he wants earn some credibilty beyond being pro football’s traveling circus, he should speak out. Tell the truth, Chad. Chris Henry made an awful lot of poor decisions – his latest discretion was life costing.

How about you, Roger Goodell? God knows you deal with poor behavior, front and center. If you speak honestly, it wouldn’t cheapen Chris Henry’s image or memory. If your goal is being productive, why not do it?

I think Roger Goodell has an obligation to talk about the game’s realities and risks. By all indications, Chris Henry was a very dysfunctional young man. The Bengals were managing his finances – like a parent oversees a kid’s allowance. Does this bother you, Mister Commissioner?

Perhaps, Marvin Lewis could address the conflicted and combustable topic known as “The Life & Times Of Chris Henry.” I realize Coach Lewis has a locker room to consider and his message would rely upon respecting the teacher/student principle.

Regardless, someone needs to be honest about Chris Henry and how he really lived his life. As with most deaths, surviving collegaues and friends are slathering Henry’s memory with compliments and testimonials …..

“He really turned his life around”

“He was on the right path”

“He hadn’t been in trouble in over a year”

Wow !!!! Is that the modern-day median line for good character? If people don’t get arrested, are they considered successful? I got a 14 year old daughter and I’m gonna expect much, much more from her.

Chris Henry hasn’t been in handcuffs for a substantial amount of time. I’m glad about that. But, he undoubtedly still had issues. He died after falling from a speeding pickup truck – during a domestic incident with his fiance’.

It’s December – it was 46 degrees, in Charlotte, on the afternoon Chris Henry died. And, he was shirtless in the back of a pickup truck. Yet, so many people want to convince us he was a changed man.

Consider this …..

If I handed you piece of paper, at the start of the 2009 NFL season – and asked you to write the names of the 5 players most likely to DIE within the next year, would Chris Henry be on that list? You’re damned right.

In a spur of the moment situation, Chris Henry made another poor decision. It was his worst decision, EVER. He is gone – and 3 children no longer have a dad.

It’s time for someone who really wants to change the image of the NFL to swallow some pride, humble up, and be honest about Chris Henry and the culture of many of the game’s players. That’s my wish for them.
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Rex Ryan

Admit it, seeing Rex Ryan’s swagger melt with each frustrating Jets loss is kinda comforting, right?

Where are the game balls for all those SUPER-JET fans, now?

Is Rex still leaving confidence-driven phone messages for season ticket holders? Or, is he making Mark Sanchez call the same people and apologize for wasting their hard earned money?

Back in September, Rex Ryan was being pimped around the Big Apple. He was the common fan’s hero. Yet, a short 3 months later, he’s being questioned and criticized by the same group of Gang-Green supporters.

From “toasted to roasted” …..

I think Rex Ryan is going to be very successful, in New York. But, he really needs a few spoonfuls of humility. The story should never, ever be about him. He’s the Head Coach, not the Head Star.

Rex needs to lighten up – he’s giving me a bad name …..

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Friday Morning’s Purple Crabs & Beer, Picks & Comment

Posted on 27 November 2009 by Glenn Clark

My pick: Ravens 20, Steelers 17

I tend to pick the Ravens at home. But I have little confidence in this pick. This game could be a blowout either way. I can’t say with certainty that the Ravens will bounce back offensively. The Steelers know them well, and will frustrate the hell out of them. This game could end up resting on Joe Flacco’s shoulders in the 4th quarter-and I’m just not certain I trust him to beat a team like Pittsburgh.

Drew’s pick: Ravens 24, Steelers 13

Drew went as far as to “guarantee” the Ravens would win. He noted that with a loss-the Ravens would fall to 3-3 at home this season with back to back losses; and he just doesn’t believe it will happen.

Let’s see what everyone else has to say…..

Best of Thursday’s WNST Blogs:

Glenn Clark says Ray Lewis (foot), Ed Reed (foot), Terrell Suggs (knee) didn’t practice on Thanksgiving

Nestor Aparicio ‘thankful’ for Billick, Marvin Lewis, Jim Schwartz, Rex Ryan, many former Ravens assistants

Drew Forrester ‘thankful’ for professionals in Ravens organization

And the rest of the world…..

The Official Site’s Ryan Mink says Ray Lewis hasn’t handled Ravens’ close losses well

The Official Site’s Sarah Ellison says Harbaugh not talking about “Suggs package”

Steelers Official Site says Steelers have won 16 of 26 regular season matchups in series, Ravens have won 5 of last 6 between teams at M&T Bank Stadium

Steelers Official Site’s Teresa Varley says Hines Ward, Mike Tomlin, etc spent Thanksgiving helping less privileged

Steelers Official Site’s Bob Labriola says Deshea Townsend will have big responsibility vs. Kelley Washington on 3rd down

The Sun’s Jamison Hensley says Chris Carr hasn’t given Ravens much in return game

The Sun’s Ken Murray says Flacco remains ‘confident’ through struggles

The Sun’s Edward Lee says Le’Ron McClain hopes Charles Ali signing will lead to more carries for him

The Sun’s Mike Preston says playoffs not out of question for Ravens

The Sun’s Jamison Hensley says Ravens need to force turnovers, get to Roethlisberger, get production from Lardarius Webb

The Sun’s Jamison Hensley says Ravens can’t start slow, have Flacco struggle, or let Santonio Holmes beat them

The Sun’s Jamison Hensley says Ravens should only consider bringing back Mark Clayton or Kelley Washington as 3rd receiver

The Sun remembers Ravens’ last win over Steelers-back in 2007

6 of 7 Sun analysts pick Ravens

The Sun’s Edward Lee says Ngata limited again in practice

The Sun’s Edward Lee says Derrick Mason thinks noise more important than towel-waving

The Sun’s Edward Lee says T-Sizzle remains ‘question mark’ for Sunday Night Football

The Sun’s Edward Lee says Frank Walker, Mark Clayton don’t think Corey Ivy helping Steelers too much with Ravens information

The AP’s Alan Robinson says Big Ben not concerned about latest concussion

Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson says James Harrison will cause problems for Jared Gaither, Ravens

Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson says Terrell Suggs reports recovery ‘accelerated’ in hopes to play against Steelers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette says Todd Bouman, Patrick Ramsey worked out for Pittsburgh as they consider adding one

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Scott Brown says Polamalu ‘unlikely’ to play Sunday in Baltimore

SI’s Peter King picks Steelers 22-17

SI’s Don Banks has Ravens 15th in power rankings

4 of 7 Sporting News analysts pick Ravens

NFL.com’s Gil Brandt thinks James Harrison-Jared Gaither could be special matchup

ESPN.com’s John Clayton says Ravens, Steelers at ‘crisis stage’

ESPN.com’s James Walker says Ravens, Steelers were rooting for Giants to beat Broncos (well…..)

ESPN.com’s James Walker says defense ‘back’ for Ravens

Here are the rest of The Comcast Morning Show Picks and Comment (without the comment):

NFL:
Colts/Texans: Me 31-28 Houston, Drew 30-24 Indianapolis
Redskins/Eagles: Me 23-13 Philadelphia, Drew 17-10 Philadelphia
Dolphins/Bills: Me 23-10 Miami, Drew 24-13 Miami
Seahawks/Rams: Me 24-10 Seattle, Drew 27-24 St. Louis
Buccaneers/Falcons: Me 20-16 Atlanta, Drew 31-13 Atlanta
Panthers/Jets: Me 28-20 Carolina, Drew 24-20 New York
Browns/Bengals: Me 34-6 Cincinnati, Drew 31-7 Cincinnati
Jaguars/49ers: Me 16-13 Jacksonville, Drew 24-10 San Francisco
Chiefs/Chargers: Me 31-24 San Diego, Drew 27-19 San Diego
Bears/Vikings: Me 26-16 Minnesota, Drew 40-17 Minnesota
Cardinals/Titans: Me 34-30 Arizona, Drew 28-24 Tennessee
Patriots/Saints: Me 26-17 New England, Drew 34-28 New Orleans

College Football:
Maryland/Boston College: Me 24-14 BC, Drew 30-24 BC
Navy/Hawaii: Me 27-26 Navy, Drew 38-31 Hawaii

College Basketball:
Towson/Dayton: Me 88-61 Dayton, Drew 84-67 Dayton
UMBC/JMU: Me 69-62 Madison, Drew 71-58 Madison
Morgan State/Appalachian State: Me 77-55 Morgan, Drew 80-64 Morgan
Coppin State/USC: Me 80-58 USC, Drew 91-70 USC

Talk to you shortly.

-G

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Giving Thanks to Baltimore coaches everywhere

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Giving Thanks to Baltimore coaches everywhere

Posted on 26 November 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Well, we made it to yet another Thanksgiving. It’s another late Thursday in November, another Calvert Hall-Loyola game, another dose of Detroit for lunch and Dallas for dinner. We’re all a year older and hopefully a year wiser. It’s football, turkey and “giving thanks” for whatever good graces we all have in our lives.

So, being the sports guy that I am, I thought I’d write a Thanksgiving tribute to all of the coaches in my life. At 41 and being the nutty up-all-night sports web media entrepreneur that I am, the real gift of all of my years of doing Baltimore sports media has been the wisdom that I’ve unwittingly acquired along the way from coaches, managers and leaders of men in the business that I’ve fallen in love with – sports and community.

Of course, when you’re 15 years old and taking the No. 23 MTA bus downtown to Skipjacks games and writing about them for The News American next to John Steadman, you don’t realize until much later the impact these people have had on your life. So, today, I’ll give them thanks.

I truly have a lot to be thankful for – a great family, wife, son, a 90-year old Mom who brings great humor to my life, and many awesome partners, co-workers, friends, business associates and athletes, jocks and Facebook friends.

This whole “Thanksgiving blog” idea was borne out of a phone call I received about six weeks ago. It was from the 847 area code and I didn’t recognize the number. (This is where I should insert that I HATE phone calls. I’m a texter. I’m an emailer. I’ll even IM on occasion. Ask anyone in my life, I’m a communicator. But in 2009 – after spending 35 years of my life with my ear glued to a phone to do virtually every piece of my communication — I now find phone calls to be intrusive and disruptive and generally annoying.)

That said, I always seem to answer the damned thing.

“Hello,” I bellowed.

“Nestor…it’s Gene Ubriaco here. How ya been, kid?”

These are the little “gifts” that come out of the blue. I met Gene Ubriaco 25 years ago this month, when at the age of 16 I was put on the Skipjacks beat. My boss, Tom Gibbons, pulled me into his little office on Pratt and South Streets and basically said, “You’re the only one around here who actually wants to go down there and write about them so you’re our guy.”

Gibbons, who came from Boston and loved hockey, also had no budget at a dying newspaper (sound familiar?) and paid me $3.33 per hour to go to games. So, I made about $13 a game, parked for free, got free hot dogs and soda and the good fortune to sit on the roof of the then-Baltimore Civic Center’s rooftop veranda with the rats, roaches and a myriad of really cool old dudes who loved hockey and told me a zillion awesome stories. And sometimes, Barton Mitchell would even bring corned beef sandwiches from Attman’s as a “thank you” to the media.

Jimmy Jackson covered the team for The Sun. George Taylor covered the team for The Evening Sun. They were both well into their 60s. Pete Kerzel was my first media friend and we’d talk about pro wrestling and Jimmy Buffett. I was 16. Those evenings with Jackson and Taylor are my greatest memories of being a sportswriter. They’d eat Fiddle Faddle, yell at the officials, laugh and talk hockey.

After the games, we’d head down Baltimore’s slowest elevator to the locker room to chat with Skipjacks coach Gene Ubriaco. “Ubie,” as everyone would call him, was almost 50 then – a middling to bottom of the roster NHL hockey player but mostly a minor-leaguer who had made a post-career life as a coach and went on to lead the early Mario Lemieux-era Pittsburgh Penguins into a few playoff berths before being jettisoned. He also coached the Italian Olympic hockey team in Albertville, France in 1992 and has been in Chicago for the last 15 years running the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.

Ubie, who will turn 72 the day after Christmas, was kind of like an uncle to me, teaching me the game of hockey and giving me insights into the psychology of a hockey player. He knew because he had been that kid from “The Sault” (that’s Sault. St. Marie, Ontario, eh?) who was trying to catch on in the NHL. Ubie played just three season in “The Show” – all in different locales like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Oakland (yep, he was a Seal!)

Ubriaco would always take extra time to not just “give me quotes” – as every newspaper reporter needed – he would actually try to instruct me as to what he was thinking and why, so I learned more about the game. He was truly an educator, a teacher. He also had a little trouble hearing and pinched cheeks like the old Italian uncle.

Two decades later when I was sitting in NFL film rooms with Marvin Lewis or Jim Schwartz or Rex Ryan, I suppose that “learning” experience and openness that Ubriaco shared with me in 1984 was still being passed down to me by good men simply because I asked and had an interest in trying to get the story right.

Today, I celebrate Thanksgiving by thanking them here.

So, Ubriaco called me out of the blue six weeks ago, he’s back in Baltimore with his son for this holiday and on Black Friday we’re going to lunch together. We’re going to talk about old times, hockey and life. He recommended that we go to Gary Rissling’s place, Silver Spring Mining Company, and so it is. Rissling was on that first Skipjacks team I covered in 1984 and we work together to bring Caps fans to his restaurants and he still travels the world spreading the gospel of hockey.

Maybe you remember “My Dinner With Andre.” Well, this is my lunch with Geno. I’m sure I’ll have some great wnsTV footage.

But this reunion with Ubriaco has gotten me thinking about coaches and what an unbelievable source of knowledge they’ve been for me over the years in so many ways. Especially after my father died in 1992, they’ve all filled some sort of interesting role in my life as friends, teachers, advisors, sounding boards and confidants. And, obviously, Brian Billick is a partner in my business now at WNST.net. He’s shown the ultimate confidence in me and I’m thankful for his friendship and wisdom.

Ask my wife or anyone close to me and they’ll tell you that coaches are my favorite people in the world.

I’m really “thankful” for all that they’ve done for me.

At 41, I’ve now become a very reluctant coach of sorts. Sometimes, I’ve had to replace players, fire them, make moves for the betterment of the team at WNST. And it’s never easy and never comes without great strategy and use of knowledge and information that I’ve been taught by coaches.

But it’s no different than any of the other coaches who’ve had to deal with the media, cut players, fire assistants, deal with ownership, fans, the “crowd” and still manage to have families and passions outside of the games that they try so desperately to win.

Ubie was the first of many, many good men I’ve met and befriended along the way. Quite frankly, he taught me the ropes of being a sportswriter – all the stuff they’d never teach you in college.

One day I’ll write a whole book with a chapter about these guys and funny stories. (Some of them I could write a whole book about, but I don’t think I’m old enough to do that just yet.)

But I want to point some of them out by name, because it’s been one helluva run of good people over these 25 years and Ubie is special because he was the first person who took the time to care and try to help me not only understand the game but to be a better person.

For that, I’m thankful!

In hockey, Bryan Murray and Terry Murray (I covered the story the day the younger brother replaced his fired older brother…weird day at the Capital Centre!), Doug MacLean, Barry Trotz, Walt Kyle and Moe Mantha were all superstars in continuing a hockey tradition of fellowship.

I still see Trotz all the time in Nashville and one of Doug MacLean’s interns is our weekend Section 410 anchor Eric Aaronson. In particular, Terry Murray and I always had a special relationship because I had to track him down after games on the road in places like Fredericton and Binghamton to get quotes after listening to the games on the radio. He thought I was nutty/obsessed with getting the story and he was right. He always called me his “favorite reporter” in some sort of tongue-in-cheek way.

I also covered Eliott Uzelac’s macho boys of Navy football and Jim Lynam’s NBA Bullets. Lynam was a helluva good guy and loved to talk basketball. He was a junkie.

When I started doing radio in 1992 and the Orioles moved to Camden Yards, I inherited the first skipper that I really didn’t like, Johnny Oates. Unlike all of the other “friendly” skippers I’d had the good fortune to chat with after games in hockey, Oates was introverted, militaristic and hated any real questions.

Think about it. As a sports reporter, when you ask a “question” to a coach or player you’re essentially doubting, second-guessing or asking for some sort of justification for a decision or action. By its very nature, I suppose it’s weird or confrontational for anyone who is paranoid to be asked “why” they did or didn’t do something.

Oates, in particular, took every “What were you thinking in the 7th inning question?” as a personal assault. Almost 20 years later, just watching Dave Trembley do these things on live television after a loss is a throwback to the worst days of Oates. I literally cringe some nights.

But through it all, Oates appreciated that I knew the game and would take time to explain things on nights when the team won. But after a loss, he wasn’t warm and fuzzy. In the end, he came around during the 1993 season and apologized for being so evasive and snappy. This was right around the time that he found a spiritual change in his life and mellowed.

In September 1993 he chased me through the old Cleveland Stadium locker room – still the nastiest, dirtiest visiting locker room I’ve ever entered in any facility, major or minor league – while soaking wet and draped in a towel and called me into his office and we had a 30 minute chat about our roles and jobs and we made a peace pact and professional courtesy that lasted until his tragic death.

Oates was a good man. And in the end, he taught me a lot about baseball and about the people in baseball. It’s a conservative game. And it’s an awful business. There are a lot of tortured souls in the game of baseball, no matter how much money is involved.

In the days when I had a press pass (before Peter Angelos came and wrecked sports in our city during the summers since the mid 1990’s), baseball was great for educators about the game: Phil Regan, Greg Biagini, Chuck Cottier, Elrod Hendricks, Sam Perlozzo, Leo Mazzone, Davey Lopes, Tom Treblehorn, Bruce Bochy and Sparky Anderson were all awesome resources and always happy to answer any question that started with “Why?”

Cottier in particular would always put his arm around me and say: “Anything you ever wonder about in the game you just come to me and I’ll help you…”

I’m thankful for the Chuck Cottiers of baseball. There weren’t a lot of them, but they are appreciated.

I’ve also encountered some other great educators in other sports – Kenny Cooper, Pete Caringi, Dave MacWilliams, Kevin Healy, Bobby MacAvan, Tim Wittman, Mike Stankovic and others within the soccer world. And the basketball guys like Dino Gaudio, Mike Jaskulski, Terry Truax, Jimmy Patsos and Tom Sullivan have always had an open-door policy to asking questions about strategy and the nuances of the game on the hardwood.

Even with a sport like lacrosse, which has never been in my blood, when guys like Tony Seaman and Paul Cantabene do my radio show or see me out around town, they’ve always been enthusiastic about teaching me their game and comparing it to other sports so I could better understand the technical aspects.

But it’s been in my adulthood and with the emergence of the Ravens in Baltimore that my “coaching up” has taken on graduate-level courses.

Marvin Lewis was the first coach I met when the Ravens came in 1996. He’s taught me more about football than anyone over the years. Every Friday, we’d watch film and do a Q&A about the strategy of the game and the decisions that are made on the field on Sundays. Usually, Jim Schwartz was in the room in those early years and later did eight years worth of Fridays on my radio show and station, checking in with his Baltimore roots. Kirk Ferentz and Pat Hill were also phenomenally generous with their time and knowledge during the days of the flying ‘B.’

Then came Brian Billick and a myriad of super people like Jack Del Rio, Mike Smith, Mike Nolan, Mike Pettine, Rex Ryan, Jim Fassel, Rick Neuheisel and Matt Cavanaugh who always had a seat in their office for a few minutes of transparency in their ideologies and strategies to turn me from novice fan into someone who really understands the game.

And scouts like Phil Savage, Eric DeCosta, George Kokinis and Joe Hortiz are coaches of a whole different kind and have always been educational and accountable.

Again, one day, I’ll write a whole book on these guys above – the education is always ongoing with football and the NFL.

But for today, I just want to say “THANKS, COACH!” I’ll never be able to repay them for their time, energy or candor about all aspects of their job.

My Pop was the ultimate coach – he taught me to listen to coaches.

And as much as I know I’m still not the world’s greatest listener…

Boss

I must’ve done something right along the way because I’ve certainly heard the greater message.

Honesty. Integrity. Kindness. Charity. Friendship. Honor. Strategy. Accountability. Passion. Respect. Diligence. Creativity. Team first. These are the things that all of these sports coaches preach on a daily basis to their players. I’d like to think that a lot of this has sunk in over the years.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I just want to take time to thank all of the people who’ve taught me the most about life.

To the coaches of Baltimore over the past 25 years who’ve been cool and kind and helpful – with a special bow to Gene Ubriaco — on this special Thursday in November, I say: Happy Thanksgiving!

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