The owner did his best to enter the process without prejudices. Ryan, for example, carried the endorsements of many top players.

"Our job," Bisciotti said, "is to make sure that wouldn't help him."

After meeting with the six candidates, he believed any one could be a good head coach. "You've spent 25 years doing a million little things right to get the kinds of endorsements these guys had," he said.

But Garrett and Harbaugh led the list. They fit the owner's image of a leader, the type of guy he could see standing in front of his team and saying the right things.

He wanted a great communicator who, at the same time, wouldn't pretend to know everything and wouldn't fear self-deprecation.

"I want someone who understands that it can be very lonely at the top but that it doesn't have to be," he said.

The Ravens talked to Harbaugh twice, and Bisciotti spent about 15 hours with him, seeking that comfort level that would tell him he had found his man.

"You guys put me through such a grueling process," Harbaugh said, turning to Bisciotti. "It was about as detailed as it could've been. ... You made me think.

"Steve, you had the toughest questions," he added a moment later.

When asked later how Bisciotti struck him, Harbaugh said: "Energetic, powerful, strong, very creative. You've got to be an outside-the-box thinker. I tell you, I took notes. Anytime you have an opportunity to spend that much time with a guy like that, even if you don't get the job, you have to learn something."

After talking with Garrett and Harbaugh, Bisciotti popped in a tape that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sent to interviewers last year. Many of the qualities he observed in Tomlin he had just glimpsed in his top two candidates. He felt reassured.

Bisciotti was not devastated when Garrett decided to stay with the Cowboys. He had told the leading candidate before he left Tuesday that he was neck and neck with Harbaugh.

"I don't want you to think we feel jilted," Bisciotti said yesterday. "He was an honorable guy who was put in a difficult position."

As a "glass-half-full guy," the owner said he immediately felt comfortable with his alternative, Harbaugh.

"I don't know that I was my wife's first choice," Bisciotti joked.

As he looked back on the process, Bisciotti couldn't think of anything that surprised him. Not that it was as easy as decisions he used to make in corporate life.

"It's the toughest hire I've had to make because it's public, not because it was over my head intellectually or emotionally," he said.

When he was finished talking with reporters, Bisciotti turned to former Ravens owner Art Modell, 82, whom he credited with setting a hiring blueprint. He crouched low so he could look his wheelchair-bound mentor in the eye as they spoke. Before he was pulled away for a radio appearance, he kissed the old man on the cheek.

childs.walker@baltsun.com