M. Lewis appears Bucs' man


The third time appears to be a charm for Marvin Lewis.

Barring any late surprises, league sources have indicated that the Ravens' defensive coordinator will be hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach. In the past year, Lewis has been a finalist for the head coaching jobs with the Buffalo Bills and the Carolina Panthers.

Lewis, 43, became a clear favorite for the Buccaneers' vacancy yesterday when the club's last-ditch efforts to obtain the rights to hire Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden collapsed.

Once the Buccaneers' owners sign off on Lewis and his coaching staff, an announcement could come by the end of this week or early next week. Lewis is expected to meet the Glazer family that owns the club for the first time today or tomorrow, completing what is believed to be the final hurdle of the hiring process.

"Obviously, I've gone this far with it and I think it's coming to the end," Lewis told The Sun last night from his Finksburg home. "All things seem very positive."

If Lewis leaves for Tampa Bay, the Ravens are expected to promote receivers coach Mike Nolan to defensive coordinator. Nolan, a Baltimore native who just finished his first season on the Ravens' staff, was a defensive coordinator from 1993 to 2000 with the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

Besides a change in coordinators, there has been speculation that the Ravens are discussing the possibility of switching from a 4-3 defense (four linemen and three linebackers) to a 3-4 alignment. Nolan would have the task of rebuilding a dominant defense since it appears the Ravens likely will part ways with three veterans - safety Rod Woodson and defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary - for salary cap reasons as well as lose outside linebacker Jamie Sharper in the NFL's expansion draft.

Ravens coach Brian Billick wouldn't comment on any upcoming moves, but he expressed confidence that Lewis is more than ready to make the leap to head coach. Lewis would become the fourth coach to leave the Ravens' staff in the past 12 days.

"We couldn't be happier for Marvin," Billick said. "It's well-deserved."

The pending hiring will give the NFL three African-American head coaches, the same as last season. Lewis would join Tony Dungy, who is now head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and the Jets' Herman Edwards as the only black head coaches among the NFL's 32 franchises.

Since firing Dungy on Jan. 14, the Buccaneers have embarrassed themselves several times during a 23-day coaching search.

After dealing with a public relations disaster when two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells pulled out of contention, Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay interviewed Lewis, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner. McKay named Lewis as his top candidate, yet the Glazers still wanted to pursue Gruden, who has one year left on his Raiders contract.

League sources said Lewis' side imposed a deadline of yesterday to end the dragged-out search, wanting to keep his potential coaching staff from being put on hold any longer. Under that timetable, the talks to acquire Gruden fell apart yesterday when the Buccaneers considered the asking price from Oakland owner Al Davis to be too high, paving the way for Lewis to get his first head coaching job at any level.

Contract negotiations with Lewis' agent, Ray Anderson, could be initiated as early as today, sources said.

Landing a head coaching job has been a laborious process for Lewis, considered one of the league's hottest candidates the past two years.

Two weeks ago, he was led astray in the Panthers' search when Carolina officials told him to be patient and not to listen to rumors that New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox would be hired. Then, he had to endure the Buccaneers' fascination with Gruden.

But the excruciating length of this search never seemed to faze Lewis. During his wait yesterday, he attended the Ravens' personnel meeting for the upcoming season and calmly surfed the Internet.

"For some reason, most things that I get involved in, it's not easy," Lewis said. "I don't know why."

Lewis, the only defensive coordinator in the Ravens' six-year history, molded one of the most successful units in the NFL over the past three years and played an integral part in the Ravens' Super Bowl championship run last year.

His defense has finished second in the league for three consecutive seasons and set an NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) in a 16-game season in 2000. One of the most well-respected assistants, Lewis will bring 10 years of NFL coaching experience and is considered a sound teacher.

He'd like to be able to have a staff in place by Saturday. But for now, he doesn't mind the wait.

"You'd like this to be an open-and-shut case," Lewis said. "What we all adhere to is that most things that are worthwhile take time."

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