NFL snowball again hits city in face


The only thing more fitting would have been if Mike Holmgren tried to get to Baltimore, but couldn't because of the snowstorm. That would have been the city's second snow-related NFL catastrophe, if not quite as disastrous as March 28, 1984.

Of course, Holmgren never left Seattle, just like George Seifert never interviewed anywhere but Charlotte. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was scheduled to arrive yesterday, but the airport closed. Maybe the Ravens should just hire someone from inside the Baltimore Beltway, rather than get stood up again.

You can't go to the prom without a date.

You can't roll out the red carpet without an honoree.

And you can't hire a high-profile coach without juice.

It's no surprise that the Ravens failed to land Holmgren or Seifert, especially when the price for Holmgren reportedly was $32 million to $40 million for eight years. But it's a sad commentary on this franchise that it couldn't persuade either of its top two coaching candidates to even visit Charm City, and chow down with owner Art Modell.

The Ravens have a new stadium, an emerging defense and Modell claiming that "money is not an impediment to this organization, never has been." They should be a magnet for top management talent, just as the Orioles were after the opening of Camden Yards. But they're not even a player.

Indeed, the lack of confidence in Modell within NFL circles has never been more apparent. His spending power and management style are in question. His new coach will be an inexperienced coordinator or college hotshot, not a proven winner.

The only hope now is that Modell will get lucky, hire the right coach and repair his image. He might believe his record $185 million debt is a non-issue. He might indeed have given Seifert or Holmgren total control. But the bottom line is, neither coach thought the Ravens worth his time or trouble.

Holmgren went for the money -- the Ravens might have paid him $4 million per season, but probably not for eight years. Seifert got the previous market rate, five years at $2.5 million per season. He probably could have secured a similar deal from the Ravens, but chose to take over a 4-12 team instead.

Granted, few NFL owners can spend with Seattle's Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. Granted, Holmgren preferred to return to the West Coast. But how do you explain Seifert? Carolina offers him the chance to strike back at San Francisco in the NFC West, but he probably could have succeeded in Baltimore faster.

In any case, as many as six openings remain -- Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia, plus expansion Cleveland, suddenly vacant Green Bay and about-to-be-sold Washington. The next step for the Ravens is to move quickly on Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, if the Jaguars lose tomorrow to the New York Jets.

That's right, the identity of the new coach now could hinge on the outcome of the playoffs. Palmer and Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick are the Ravens' top two candidates. But with the Vikings likely to advance farther than the Jaguars, Palmer could be available for interviews first.

If the Ravens liked Palmer, it would be in their best interests to hire him immediately, with so many quality assistant coaches still available. By waiting, they could lose both Palmer and Billick, and leave their new coach scrambling to put together a staff -- an inexcusable outcome.

Palmer's head coaching experience is flimsy -- two seasons at the University of New Haven and two seasons at Boston University. But he worked under coaches Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin and helped develop Drew Bledsoe in New England and Mark Brunell in Jacksonville. And he keeps the Jaguars' offense moving even when it loses seemingly indispensable parts like Brunell and James Stewart.

Would he be a good NFL coach?

Who knows?

Billick is also a mystery -- he has zero head coaching experience, and his success this season is at least partly attributed to the Vikings' spectacular offensive talent. Still, Billick groomed Brad Johnson and revived Randall Cunningham. He, too, would be qualified to select the Ravens' next quarterback.

Maybe Palmer or Billick is the next Mike Shanahan, but for the moment, the Ravens' top two candidates amount to no more than the best of the rest -- and the scary part is, they still could wind up elsewhere. The Green Bay job is more attractive. The Cleveland job is, too.

The new baseball stadium elevated the Orioles to another financial level, enabling them to compete for top players and executives. The Ravens lack tradition and a new practice facility, but they've got the biggest piece in place, and should at least interest a Holmgren or Seifert.

On the scale of disappointment, Jan. 8, 1999, will never compare to March 28, 1984. But if the snow was familiar, so was the frustration. Wasn't the plan for Baltimore to return to NFL glory? Wasn't all this supposed to end?

In '84, the vans rolled out.

In '99, the planes never came in.

Pub Date: 1/09/99

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