Usually, Ravens owner Art Modell calls head coach Ted Marchibroda on Monday mornings, but yesterday he made a special trip to the team's Owings Mills complex. After a hug, a handshake and about 10 minutes of conversation, Modell left Marchibroda's office with tears in his eyes.
Modell, who moved his team from Cleveland to Baltimore three )) years ago, fired the Ravens' first head coach after Marchibroda failed to get into playoff contention, finishing the 1998 season with a 6-10 record and a 16-31-1 mark during the past three seasons.
After firing Marchibroda, 67, yesterday morning, the Ravens were in contact with former San Francisco 49ers coach George Seifert, who was heading to North Carolina for an interview with the Panthers about their vacant head coaching position, according to a league source.
Seifert did not return phone calls yesterday, but he'll be the most highly sought after prospect until teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings end their seasons in the playoffs. Seifert, Green Bay's Mike Holmgren, Stanford's Tyrone Willingham, Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick, Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak are the top candidates for the Ravens.
The Ravens will have plenty of competition in choosing a new coach. Four other teams - the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers - fired their coaches yesterday, and the San Diego Chargers and expansion Cleveland Browns also are seeking coaches.
But before the Ravens pressed into the future, they had unfinished business in the present. Modell was driven into the training facility about 10 yesterday morning and met with Marchibroda and his coaching staff 30 minutes later.
Modell walked out and was followed by farewell visits to Marchibroda's office from two team executive vice presidents, son David Modell and Jim Bailey. The mood was somber because, despite a poor overall record, Marchibroda is one of the most-liked coaches in the National Football League.
Fond of the coach
Marchibroda also had a fond relationship with Modell, who often compared him to former Browns coach Blanton Collier. According to a team official, Marchibroda's release was inevitable after the Ravens lost to Jacksonville, 45-19, to drop to 2-6. The Ravens had five turnovers in that game and trailed 42-13 at the half.
Marchibroda was as optimistic as ever yesterday and could be heard laughing repeatedly in his office during meetings with various other team officials and while taking calls from family and friends. He met with his coaching staff one last time before making a date to have a few items in his office moved out. Marchibroda said he talked with his wife, Ann, about plans Sunday night, but nothing has been decided. Modell said there is a possibility Marchibroda might be offered a job as a consultant, pending approval from the new coach.
"There is no reason for gloom," said Marchibroda. "When you've done all that you can and the best that you can, there is not a lot more I can do today. My relationship with the team ended amicably, and I hope I have done the job Art wanted me to do. Our conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and he basically said I was just a stopgap coach and the right guy at the right time.
"With Art, he always had a special feeling for me," said Marchibroda. "It wasn't the usual coach/owner relationship. He told me about possibly rejoining the organization, but said that was up to the new coach, and that's the way it should be. When I was talking to my wife, she told me that my life is just beginning."
Modell had a similar theme yesterday. He had an emotionally charged meeting with his players that lasted about 20 minutes.
"He said that he was taking responsibility for this season and that he was taking responsibility for finding a great new coach and a staff," said linebacker Peter Boulware. "He also said that he was committed to winning. He was emotional because he had to let the coaches go, but he also seemed sincere. He told us that we should be committed, and, if we weren't, don't return next season."
Modell said: "This has been a very, very hard day emotionally for me. I know what it's like to be out on the street with my background. It was a bittersweet moment. I was saddened by what I had to do, but I look forward to the future with great expectations."
Modell said he has already formed a search and screening committee that will recommend three to five final candidates. The final decision will be Modell's, and he hopes to have an announcement by late January. Teams, except for the new Cleveland franchise, are not allowed to interview assistant coaches until those coaches' seasons are over.
But based on previous selections, Modell will hire a tough, hardnosed assistant who has been in the league, like Billick or Palmer. Modell has a good-guy, bad-guy pattern. His past five coaches were Sam Rutigliano (nice guy), Marty Schottenheimer (tough), Bud Carson (nice), Bill Belichick (tough) and Marchibroda (nice).
At yesterday's news conference, Modell was asked about hiring a coach with a reputation as a tough guy.
"If Hitler came back, I'd take him," Modell said. He later apologized for the remark, saying: "It was ludicrous to say what I did. I knew the second I said it, that was absurd. I apologize to anybody who might take offense."
Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who was fired along with the rest of the assistant coaches, criticized the team for not being tougher on players.
"They think there is some magic potion [to success]. This is not magic; this is hard work," Lewis said. "It's about discipline day after day after day. That's why people win games around this league. When a guy doesn't want to play or practice, you get rid of him and you get a new guy. That's what should have happened around here. You don't send the right message to younger guys when you don't get rid of them."
The next coach will have at least a three-year contract, Modell said, and money is no impediment, despite reported financial problems that drove the team to Baltimore. Around the league, Holmgren is considered the top candidate, and there is speculation that he could end up in San Francisco. Seifert supposedly is headed to Seattle or San Diego. Neither Willingham nor Stanford athletic director Ted Leland returned phone calls yesterday.
"There is no need to press a panic button," said Modell. "We want a man who has credentials. He doesn't have to be a name, but from a winning program. We're going to win, and we're going to win in 1999. You don't have five Pro Bowlers with a 6-10 record unless you have a hard-core group of good football players."
Pub Date: 12/29/98