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Vikes' loss clears path for Ravens to Billick; Offensive coordinator will talk to Baltimore before making decision


Let the Brian Billick sweepstakes begin.

Billick, the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, is now eligible for interviews to become a head coach of several teams in the NFL, including the Ravens, after the Vikings lost, 30-27, in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game yesterday.

Billick and Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer are the two favorites of both the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. Billick and Palmer already have interviewed with the Browns and Palmer has met with Ravens officials.

After the Vikings' loss yesterday, Billick said he'll also talk with the Ravens before making a decision. Billick said the Ravens got permission from the Vikings about 10 days ago to speak to him once his season ended.

"We're not going to do anything haphazardly. We're going to give each a chance to step up in equal opportunity. We want to move quickly," he said.

Ravens owner Art Modell may be involved in a bidding war for Billick with Browns owner Al Lerner, a former minority owner of the Browns when Modell owned them before moving to Baltimore three years ago.

Regardless, it seems as though the Ravens will end up with one of their top-rated candidates.

"He is a compelling candidate and we're going to need to talk with him," said David Modell, the team's vice president of marketing who is leading the coaching search along with Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel.

When asked if he was bothered by competition from the Browns, Modell replied: "Our organization stacks up against any in sports. Hopefully, we'll have him in and we'll go from there."

The Ravens previously had competed for former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren and former 49ers coach George Seifert. But Seifert took the job in Carolina and Holmgren went to Seattle.

Both coaches signed with their teams either during or shortly after their first visit.

Billick wouldn't tip his hand on whether Cleveland or Baltimore has an edge going in. He said he wasn't aware of interest from any other teams.

"Both are intriguing jobs. Both have a lot to offer. It'll be interesting to see what happens," said Billick, who also plans to talk with his two mentors, Minnesota coach Dennis Green and former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, before making a decision.

"Both have their pluses, certainly Baltimore from the standpoint of being a new team so to speak in a new area for them. Both groups are very passionate about what they want to do.

"We'll give them a chance to step up and put their best foot forward and see where it goes from here."

Billick said his family will play a factor in his decision and is likely to research both cities on the Internet.

"I think they would embrace Cleveland or Baltimore with equal passion," he said.

He said he wouldn't demand total control from either team.

"The way Cleveland is set up vs. the way Baltimore is set up, I'm very comfortable with both environments in terms of the ability for me to come in and do the job that I'm going to be hired to do," Billick said.

"I'm not in a position where I feel I have to have absolute say over the organization in terms of personnel as long as we can create a structure in which I understand the input and the decisions that are going to be made are going to include the head coach. My understanding with both clubs is that that would be the case."

When he was asked if there's one thing that he's looking for to help him make a decision, he said, "At this point, I'm looking for someone to say, 'Do you want to be the head coach?' "

Billick's Vikings teams have been in the top five of almost every offensive category during the past five seasons. Among the quarterbacks he has worked with are Warren Moon, Brad Johnson and Randall Cunningham, as well as receivers Cris Carter, Jake Reed and Randy Moss.

Billick is known as a computer whiz and the innovator of explosive offenses, but his reputation may have suffered slightly in the third quarter of yesterday's contest when his game plan went conservative after Cunningham fumbled on an attempted pass late in the second quarter.

The Ravens had rated Billick slightly behind Palmer before they began interviewing candidates Jim Haslett, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas. Holmgren, Seifert and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer were rated the top three prospects by the team, but Schottenheimer has announced his retirement.

Pub Date: 1/18/99

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