The Ravens won’t be going far to find their next defensive coordinator.
Continuing the organization’s pattern of elevating position coaches into the role, coach John Harbaugh has promoted linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale to fill the defensive coordinator vacancy created with last week’s retirement of Dean Pees.
“’Wink’ has earned the promotion to defensive coordinator,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “His aggressive mentality will serve to take our defense to new levels. He is obviously respected by players, many of whom have already benefited from his direct coaching at the linebacker position. He knows the ins and outs of what we have been about on defense and has been an important contributor to our success on that side of the ball. This is an exciting day for Wink and his family, and also one for the Ravens.”
The decision comes after Harbaugh had spoken to several high-profile candidates, including former Ravens defensive coordinator and Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. It was widely believed Pagano, who ran the Ravens defense in 2011, was one of Harbaugh’s top candidates. However, it never was certain Pagano would want to jump immediately back into coaching after he was fired by the Colts last week after his sixth season at the helm.
Martindale, 54, has been on Harbaugh’s staff as a position coach since the team’s Super Bowl-winning season in 2012 and has been instrumental in the development of young linebackers C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr and Matthew Judon. Orr, who was forced into retirement because of a congenital neck/spine condition and worked with Martindale in coaching the team’s linebackers this past season, said last year that Martindale is one of the best teachers the Ravens have in the organization.
He’s long been a favorite of the players, who appreciate his direct and personable coaching style plus his ability to make a point without screaming or yelling or belittling a player. Mosley, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Eric Weddle were among the Ravens players to endorse Martindale for the job.
Martindale is the seventh defensive coordinator in team history and the sixth promoted from a position coach position to the job. The Ravens defensive coordinator job has been a line of succession with Mike Nolan replacing Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan following Nolan, Greg Mattison succeeding Ryan, Pagano replacing Mattison, and Pees being promoted when Pagano left for Indianapolis.
Like Martindale, Pees was the Ravens linebackers coach before taking over defensive coordinator duties in 2012. Pees announced his retirement a day after the Ravens were beaten, 31-27, by the Cincinnati Bengals. The loss left the Ravens out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
With rumors about Pees’ retirement persisting for the past couple of seasons, Martindale, who has one season of defensive coordinator experience with the Denver Broncos in 2010, has been viewed as his heir apparent. The Ohio native first coached with Harbaugh in 1996 at the University of Cincinnati. Five years later, he worked under Harbaugh’s father, Jack, on the latter’s staff at Western Kentucky.
Martindale’s first NFL job came as the Oakland Raiders inside linebackers coach in 2004. He moved on to the Broncos in 2009 and became the team’s defensive coordinator a year later under head coach Josh McDaniels. The 2010 season was a disaster for the Broncos who went 4-12 and fired McDaniels. Martindale’s defense, which lost top pass rusher Elvis Dumervil before the season and played part of the year without standout safety Brian Dawkins, ranked last in the league.
Martindale joined Harbaugh’s staff in 2012, when the Ravens’ linebackers included veterans Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe. During his time with the Ravens, Martindale has meshed well with veteran linebackers such as Lewis and Daryl Smith while also working with a slew of young players, including Mosley, Orr, Patrick Onwuasor and Kamalei Correa.
Under Pees this past season, the Ravens defense had three shutouts and led the league with 33 takeaways. The Ravens also ranked sixth in points allowed per game (18.9), 10th in passing yards allowed per game (213.8) and 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (111.3). However, late-game meltdowns in December losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bengals figured prominently in the Ravens missing the playoffs.
Harbaugh made clear he valued continuity on the defense and didn’t want to overhaul the unit’s schemes. That’s one of the reasons that he considered several former Ravens assistants for the role, a list that includes Pagano, Ted Monachino and Steve Spagnuolo, before opting to promote Martindale.
Harbaugh also announced two other promotions on his defensive staff. Sterling Lucas, an administrative assistant for the defensive staff in 2017, was hired as a defensive quality control coach. Mike Macdonald, a 30-year-old who was a defensive assistant in 2015 and 2016 and defensive backs coach this past season, will be the new linebackers coach.
“Mike is one of the rising coaching standouts in the NFL, and he has earned the respect in the locker room and in the coaching room,” Harbaugh said. “We’re excited to see what he’ll do when he coaches our linebackers.”
The defensive staff will be tasked with ending a pattern of late-game defensive collapses that have dogged the unit since the team’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. This past season, the Ravens blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Steelers in Week 14. Three weeks later, they allowed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to throw a 49-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-12 with under a minute to go. The loss knocked the Ravens out of the playoff chase and further marred what, by most measures, had been a good season by the defense.
Martindale inherits a unit that figures to return mostly intact. The only pending defensive free agent who started a game this season for the Ravens is defensive end Brent Urban, and he missed most of the year with a foot injury. The Ravens are expected to add a middle linebacker, and they’re always looking for more depth at pass rusher and cornerback, but the biggest change will be that it is now Martindale making the defensive calls.