Marvin Lewis and Mike Smith talk nearly every week, discussing football and family and continuing a friendship that started more than a decade ago in Baltimore while coaching a championship defense.
Jim Schwartz, who brags about having the lowest phone bill in the NFL, mostly waits until the offseason scouting combines to catch up with his former colleagues and reminisce about a time where a group of tireless assistants spent hours discussing game plans, evaluating players and trading ideas
For Jack Del Rio, it is a picture across his desk of three of his former pupils — linebackers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper — that provides an everyday reminder of his time in Baltimore.
"There is a unique bond that we all have," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' general manager. "Even though we've been successful here, there were some tough times that we had to go through and they understand the tough times as well as anybody."
Newsome is the patriarch of one of the NFL's most bountiful coaching trees, an impressive and expanding group of former Ravens assistants now having success as head coaches elsewhere. Lewis, whose Bengals will be at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday in a key AFC North showdown, is one of 12 former Ravens assistants currently occupying head coaching jobs either in the NFL or at the NCAA's highest level.
The Ravens have already matched up with three of them this season, beating Rex Ryan's New York Jets and Ken Whisenhunt's Arizona Cardinals, and losing to Del Rio's Jacksonville Jaguars.
The group also includes Smith, the fourth-year coach of the Atlanta Falcons; Schwartz, the third-year head man of the Detroit Lions, and Hue Jackson, in his first year at the helm of the Oakland Raiders.
Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), Pat Hill (Fresno State), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA) and David Shaw (Stanford) also used their experience with the Ravens to either accelerate or reinvigorate their coaching careers at the collegiate level.
"If you really want to get down to it, I think the guy probably that's at the middle of all of it was Ozzie Newsome," said Schwartz, the Mount St. Joseph graduate who was a defensive quality control coach with the Ravens from 1996 to 1998 under Ted Marchibroda. "Ozzie was in Cleveland. Ozzie was with Ted Marchibroda's staff. Ozzie was with the Brian Billick staff. Ozzie is with [John] Harbaugh's staff.
"He's been the one consistent factor. One of the attributes as a head coach is you need to be consistent. You need to be consistent with your players, in your approach. You need to have that kind of discipline and I don't think there's anybody that sets a better example that way than Ozzie Newsome."
Taking the lead
Legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh was credited for developing the head coaching careers of Mike Holmgren, Dennis Green and Sam Wyche among others. Bill Parcells' coaching tree includes Super Bowl winners Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton.
None of the former Ravens assistants have led their team to Super Bowl glory as a head coach, but all of them have been credited to some extent with helping to rebuild a struggling franchise.
"The one thing about those guys, they're all hard-working guys, and they all got where they are not based on working phones and connections. They just did a good job with the job that they were given," Schwartz said. "A lot of those guys came up from the bottom. Jack Del Rio, I know he played in the NFL, but he was an assistant strength coach. I was a quality control coach. Mike Smith was a quality control coach. Marvin Lewis was an intern with the San Francisco 49ers one year. [Whisenhunt] was tight ends and then special teams coach, and worked his way up to offensive coordinator and head coach."
Del Rio, the Ravens' linebacker coach from 1999 to 2001 under Brian Billick, took over a reeling Jaguars team in 2002 and had them in the playoffs two years later. Smith, Billick's brother-in law and one of his defensive assistants from 1999 to 2002, is 38-20 since getting hired by the Falcons. Ryan, a defensive coordinator with the Ravens and a member of their coaching staff for nearly a decade, has guided the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games.
Lewis, the Ravens' long-time defensive coordinator and the architect of the 2000 defense that carried the team to the Super Bowl, has had a tumultuous nine-season run at the helm of the Bengals, but he's also achieved two playoff berths and his current team is one of the NFL's biggest surprises. Schwartz has his Lions at 6-3 and looking for the franchise's first winning season since 2000
"I'm happy for all of them. We all were very close when you spend that kind of time together," Lewis said. "Obviously Jimmy Schwartz going into Detroit is similar to when I came [to Cincinnati]. You're going into a franchise that hadn't been very successful for a long period of time. I know he's in his third season now, the struggles that he had to go through for them to start putting some players in place that they can win with. You have to have a plan, you can't flinch on that plan and you just got to make every day the best day that you can. I think that's important. The other guys kind of inherited a little better football teams. You have to do feel good about what Jimmy has been able to do."
When Whisenhunt, the Ravens' tight ends coach in 1997-98, was hired by the Cardinals in 2007, they hadn't had a .500 season since 1998. They've had three since and went to the Super Bowl in 2008. The Raiders haven't been in the playoffs since 2002, but Jackson, Harbaugh's quarterbacks coach in 2008 and 2009, has them in first place in the AFC West.
"I think it's a credit to the three head coaches we've hired here — Ted, Brian and John," Newsome said. "I think they realized, and as an organization, we realize, how important having a good staff is to being a successful football team. You need a really good head coach, but a good head coach needs some good assistants."