Coaching Carousel

Jan 19, 2003

Ex-Raven coaches are certainly making their rounds this week.
Marvin Lewis scampered off to
Cincinnati.
Jack Del Rio landed a job in
Jacksonville.
Congratulations to them both.

Marvin Lewis finally fulfilled a lifetime dream: he became the head
coach of an NFL football team. This has been his quest for several
long seasons. Success on the field as a defensive coordinator, both
in Pittsburg and Baltimore, led to many interviews but no job offers;
always in the final running, always left
out in the cold
in the end.
Last year, he seemed
poised
for a job in Tampa Bay, only to have
that change in an instant. This year, he finally got his shot.
Too bad that shot is with the Cincinnati Bungles.

I don’t know if he really deserves my congratulations or my condolences.
Cincinnati is a
scary
place for a head football coach.
Failure
thrives
there. It feels like destiny.
Paul Brown, their penny pinching owner, doesn’t what hell he’s doing.
He fields the smallest and, more importantly, least accomplished
scouting staff in the league. Put simply, they suck.
He’s content to replace his coach
every few years, while ignoring the sad support staff behind them.
Players continually
run
for the hills. Who can blame them? The chances of winning
in that cold Ohio town are slim. In the wacky world of the NFL’s
salary cap, it’s been said that the every team has a chance,
except for the Bengals. Lewis has a tough road
ahead of him despite the fact that the Bengals actually have some
talent on their squad. He needs to correct that reputation and hope
that Mr. Brown will write a couple
of big checks along the way. I wish him luck (but not
too much luck; the Ravens are a division rival).

The fortune of Jack Del Rio was a bit more surprising; his
ascent through the coaching ranks was
swift.
That said, it was not undeserved. Two years ago, Mr. Del Rio
was a linebackers coach in Baltimore. One year ago, as the
Panthers defensive coordinator, he led their 31st ranked squad
to second place in total defense, impressive work for which he was
quickly awarded. He has some good things going for him.
As the second youngest head coach in the league, he doesn’t
lack intensity. He’s also had the opportunity to work alongside
Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy, and Brian Billick, some of the most
successful coaches of the last decade. I too wish him luck
(I’m sure he thanks God that the Bengals job didn’t fall to him).

So why do I bring these subtle changes in the job market up? There
are two reasons. The first is a bit sentimental: it clears
up a mess that resulted in a nasty game of musical chairs
last season for the Ravens. In Marvin’s quest to be king,
he was on the brink of becoming the head coach of the Tampa
Bay Buccaneers. This quest was fully supported, even encouraged,
by the Ravens, who waited anxiously by the phone to see if
Mr. Lewis got his wish or returned to the team to be their
defensive coordinator for another season. Mr. Lewis was lucky.
His current job was waiting while he attempted
to get an upgrade. Then some problems occurred.

His hand picked
successor, the current linebackers coach of the Ravens, got a
better job offer in Carolina. Come be our defensive coordinator.
The Ravens couldn’t offer Jack Del Rio the same position;
that spot was waiting for Marvin Lewis, if he needed to settle
for it. Jack Del Rio was gone. In the meantime, Lewis lost
out on the race for the job in Tampa Bay. Well, at least
the Ravens got to keep their defensive coordinator, right?
Wrong. Lewis spurned the Ravens’ offer and accepted the
same position for the Redskins. Ravens 0, ex-coaches 2.

This left me with some mixed feelings. I was a bit upset
that Marvin Lewis took advantage of the good will of my
favorite team. On the other hand, the Redskins offered him
a boatload of money. How could he turn it down? In the
process, we lost a promising young coach in Jack Del Rio
just because of some unfortunate timing.

A year later, all is well. Marvin Lewis can work out his
punishment in NFL’s equivalent of hell. I can now forgive
him. Jack Del Rio early departure was actually fortunate.
If he had stayed around, his stay would have been very
short – a single season as coordinator would have caused
more turnover than good.

The second reason I mention the changes is that I think they
validate Brian Billick’s knack for discovering coaching talent.
Mr. Billick had a heck of a year himself, quietly leading a
a team decimated by the salary cap to a solid 7-9 year.
Many predicted that the Ravens would have one, maybe two wins.
Billick proved there was life in those young players’ legs. In many
ways this season was even sweeter than that of two years ago,
which ended with the Vince Lombardi trophy above his head.
He didn’t have a good base of talent to work with. The
team was the youngest in the league, filled with players
drafted in the 6th round or below and a sprinkle of good
players. Ray Lewis, the unquestioned star and leader of the
defense, and Michael McCrary, the speedy defensive end,
went down early in the season. As a result, a large portion
of the budget watched from the sidelines.
Still, the Ravens fought and scrapped their way to a respectable record,
ending with a couple of tough losses to playoff bound opponents.
Billick deserves a lot of credit; too bad he didn’t receive
the award he really deserved: coach of the year.

All in all, as the page is flipped on another season, football again promises
to be exciting. There will be some familiar faces on the other sidelines.
The Ravens, still a very young team, get the league’s most exciting player
back with another year of experience under their belt. Brian Billick and Ozzie
Newsome, who was recently knighted the Ravens’ GM, get a little
money to spend on the free agent market. It should be fun to
watch. I can’t wait.

by | Categories: sports |

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