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 when their attempts to obtain the rights to hire Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden collapsed yesterday.

Once Tampa Bay's owners sign off on Lewis, an announcement could come by the weekend or early next week. Lewis is expected to meet the Glazer family that owns the Buccaneers for the first time in the next few days.

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

The Ravens are expected to promote receivers coach Mike Nolan to defensive coordinator. Nolan, a Baltimore native who 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 defense. Nolan will have the task of rebuilding a dominant defense since it appears that the Ravens will likely have to part ways with three veterans - safety Rod Woodson and defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary - as well as lose outside linebacker Jamie Sharper in the expansion draft.

While Ravens coach Brian Billick declined to comment on potential staff moves, he expressed confidence that Lewis is more than ready to make the leap to the head coaching ranks. 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 hire will get the NFL back to three African-American head coaches. Lewis would join former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy - now the coach of the Indianapolis Colts - and the Jets' Herman Edwards as the three black head coaches among the NFL's 32 franchises.

Since firing Dungy on Jan. 14, the Buccaneers have embarrassed themselves several times during their 23-day coaching search. After dealing with a public relations disaster when Bill Parcells took himself out of contention, Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay named Lewis as his top candidate but the Glazers still wanted to pursue Gruden, who has one year left on his Raiders' contract.

League sources said Lewis' side imposed a deadline for yesterday to end this dragged-out search. 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.

Landing a coaching job has been a laborious process for Lewis, considered one of the league's hottest head coaching 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 the rumors that New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox would be hired. Now, he had to wait out the Buccaneers' fascination with Gruden.

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

Lewis has molded one of the most successful units in the NFL over the past three years and was a huge part of a Super Bowl-winning team 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 brings 10 years of NFL coaching experience and is considered a sound teacher.

If hired in the next couple of days, it's believed that he could have a staff in place by Saturday. But 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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