Forget stable of candidates; Ravens need Trojans' Chow

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT'S ALL WELL and good that the usual suspects, the collection of experienced NFL assistants and the odd disgraced college coach, have been rounded up for the task of running the Ravens' "offense" in 2005. It's not so good that the one obvious no-brainer of a candidate - the man who ought to be the obvious no-brainer of a candidate for every offensive coordinator opening in the league - is not, as far as anyone can tell, scheduled to interview here.

That candidate is Norm Chow. There is no hotter offense in football than his. There should be no hotter name in the sport than his. Until the Southern California offensive coordinator decides what he wants to do next, there should be no other candidate to replace Matt Cavanaugh.

Brian Billick said Thursday that he has had "extensive discussions" with Chow, and prefers to use him as a "resource" in the search to replace Cavanaugh. Billick and Chow go way back. There might not be anyone else in the NFL who knows Chow as intimately as Billick, one of his former players at Brigham Young. That said, if Billick's serious, he'd probably also ask Michelangelo to help him find a guy to paint his ceiling.

By all rights, Chow should have been swimming in requests, feelers and offers by the middle of the second quarter of Tuesday's Orange Bowl. In all fairness, he might not want to go anywhere; at least he ought to have that option.

It's bad enough that he was even in the press box toying with Oklahoma's once-vaunted defense in the first place. Chow's resume at BYU for nearly three decades and then at N.C. State, the list of the quarterbacks he has tutored and of the records they set and of the money they've made, should have kept him from ever even landing on Pete Carroll's staff.

If there were any real justice, the college world's loss would be the Ravens' gain. Chow is who they need. He's who Billick needs, who Kyle Boller needs, who Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap need, who the next batch of wide receivers needs. He's who the defense needs, too, to keep it from doubling as the Ravens' offense again, to keep Ed Reed from having to add NFL Offensive Player of the Year to his other hardware.

But as things stand today, someone besides Chow will be in the booth at M&T; Bank Stadium next fall. If so, Billick and the Ravens had better have one of the following two things ready: (1) a great alternative, from the usual suspects on parade right now or from elsewhere, or (2) a heck of an explanation.

The Ravens should be out front on this. Of course, to be out front, there has to be a crowd willing to follow, and as already noted, in defiance of all logic, Chow's door isn't being kicked down by potential employers. There are more offensive coordinator openings right now than head coaching openings. A few have already been filled. Others, it's been suggested, need to be filled even though they're currently occupied. For example, there's been one published plea in New York for the playoff-bound Jets to exchange Paul Hackett for Chow, and anyone who saw that halfback option near the goal line at the end of the first half of the Ravens game in November could see the point.

During Orange Bowl week, Chow answered more "where do you go next" questions than Carroll did. The answers, for the most part, have been "nowhere." He missed out on this round of college hirings. His massive offensive gray matter aside, Chow's reputation is one of being less than an impressive interview, more laid back and loose with details, more attuned to his instinct for the game and hands-on imparting of his knowledge than to the authoritarian aspects of the top job.

Not a bit of that matters when it comes to being an NFL coordinator.

What does matter far too often is a coordinator's comfort level with the head coach, the buffering of egos (or search for lack thereof). Too often a coaching staff resembles a president's cabinet: lots of favors curried, not enough expertise gleaned. Billick, of course, fancies himself a crisp offensive mind. He meshed with Cavanaugh for six years. In that span, the offense gradually ground to a halt.

Time to go to Plan B. Go get a genius, give him a key to a nice office at the castle in Owings Mills, give him the raw material (and it doesn't get much more raw than what's here), and let him work.

Egos might be bruised. Territory might be encroached upon. Toes might get stepped on. But the pain tends to go away in a bath of confetti and frequent hoisting of a Lombardi Trophy. Some other team gets that pleasure this year; the Ravens are watching the whole tournament go by from the sidelines.

Amid the torture of a self-described Super Bowl contender going 9-7, it's worth remembering that this franchise plays every year to win, that its standards are high, that it finds mediocrity unacceptable. Chow is the best. He deserves better than to be a consultant or sounding board.

If Norm Chow can get the Ravens to where they say they want to go, they are obligated to go get him.

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