Chapter 1: Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss

January 12, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

Atlanta and Miami that would be filled by former Ravens assistant Mike Smith and another Ravens shortlist candidate Tony Sparano.

But in hiring Harbaugh as the head coach, the Ravens felt they gave the organization the best chance to move forward and still retain a semi-dejected Ryan in the organization and keep the defensive schemes and progress in place for 2008.

Ryan was an old friend and colleague of Harbaugh, and if there were ever twins in a football snapshot sense, it was these two guys. Not only had their paths crossed in Cincinnati where they were on the same 1996 Bearcats’ staff, but the intersection of their careers is almost uncanny when you put them on a timeline.

Both of their fathers were famous coaches. Both of their brothers are coaches. Both of them had spent a life in and around football – playing it, learning it, teaching it, coaching it, living it. Ryan was at Eastern Kentucky while Harbaugh was at Western Michigan. Harbaugh was at Morehead State in 1988, Ryan coached at Morehead State from 1990-93. Harbaugh went to Indiana and arrived in the NFL in 1998 in Philadelphia. Rex dabbled in the NFL with his father Buddy Ryan in 1994-95 but went to Oklahoma and Kansas State before finally getting his chance with Billick in Baltimore in 1999.

Rex lived in the shadow of a larger-than-life father. John lived in the shadow of the All-American boy quarterback and hero brother.

Both, it was obvious, wanted to make their own mark on the world as NFL coaches and further advance the family name for winning championships. Both had been frustrated in previous seasons because they wanted promotions and wanted to run their programs.

Bisciotti was very careful in the interview process to be candid yet gentle with Ryan, who painted a less than flattering portrait of the Billick era from the inside. After all, Ryan was a part of the same program that had just gotten the head coach fired so there was some accountability and answers that management wanted inside The Castle from Ryan and the defense in a 5-11 season.

But it was Ryan’s side of the ball where games were won throughout the tenure of Billick, who was brought in from Minnesota in 1998 to be the offensive mastermind of the Ravens. While Ryan’s defenses (and Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis before that) were led by two Hall of Famers in their primes with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, there was even a little extra “Primetime” for two years when legendary Deion Sanders returned to play nickel back and troll the secondary alongside Chris McAlister, who was headed for the House of Unfulfilled Potential in the Hall of Very Good after signing a 7-year, $55 million deal in 2004.

Over the years it was Ryan’s side of the ball – or perhaps we could call it Ray Lewis’ side of the ball – that always seemed to always be the beneficiary of draft day gifts as pass rush specialist Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata allowed him the artillery to create fits for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethislisberger on a weekly basis.

It wasn’t just lip service. The bullying extended itself to the practice field, where Ryan’s defenses always seemed to intimidate the offenses during the week and it carried over into the confidence of the team as a whole. While Billick seemed to handle the offensive adversity well during the 2000 season when the offense didn’t score a touchdown for a month but still rallied behind the greatest defense in the history of the game to win Super Bowl XXXV, by the end of 2007 he was calling the plays, running the offense and still didn’t have a franchise quarterback or much of a core group on that side of the ball.

The team was lopsided. And the defense was chippy and felt like it was doing too much and each week members wondered aloud how the offense would score enough points to win.

There was certainly a lack of discipline and some of the reason for the lack of continuity fell to Ryan, who was all but untouched by Billick because the defensive side of the ball was placed in his hands, for better or worse. Bisciotti had essentially seen Billick, by the end, as the coach of the offense and Ryan as the coach of the defense and he wanted that to become more balanced under the Harbaugh regime, but could he achieve that with