Ravens down to 2 finalists

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Ravens' new offensive coordinator will be Rick Neuheisel or Jim Fassel, sources close to the situation said yesterday.

Neuheisel is considered the favorite for the position at this point, but sources have said Fassel still could emerge as a candidate considering his lack of head coaching opportunities.

Ravens officials indicated that no decision is imminent and that they could take another couple of weeks for a thorough evaluation.

"The search for the offensive coordinator is ongoing and Rick Neuheisel is part of that comprehensive search and study," coach Brian Billick said. "Right now, we don't have a timetable when we will fill that position."

If Fassel continues to pursue a head coaching job instead of the Ravens' coordinator position, Neuheisel is the likely successor to Matt Cavanaugh.

Neuheisel, 43, has been out of football since June 2003.

He was 66-30 over eight seasons at Colorado and Washington before being fired by the Huskies for participating in a high-priced college basketball pool. The NCAA ultimately cleared him of any wrongdoing, but Neuheisel has had trouble catching on elsewhere.

His lawsuit against the University of Washington, which seeks unspecified damages for Neuheisel's dismissal in June 2003 after he was accused of dishonesty and violation of NCAA gambling rules, is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 24 in Seattle.

Neuheisel has a solid history of developing quarterbacks at the college level, tutoring the likes of Troy Aikman at UCLA and Kordell Stewart at Colorado.

During the interview process, he impressed Billick and owner Steve Bisciotti with his intelligence and charisma. He quickly picked up the Ravens' offensive strategies and provided ideas about schemes in breaking down film with Billick and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

"Anybody that comes into this role is going to start with Jamal Lewis and build around him," Neuheisel said last week. "And [you] make sure Kyle Boller takes his game up to upper echelon of the quarterback position."

Fassel, 55, has not officially interviewed for the offensive coordinator job but has spoken with Billick about the position. According to a source, Fassel told Billick that he was unsettled about some of the potential makeup of the offensive staff.

But the offensive coordinator position could become more enticing by the day for Fassel, especially if the number of available head coaching jobs remains low. The Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, the only teams looking for a head coach, have not shown strong interest in him. And the predicted openings in Seattle, Minnesota, New Orleans and St. Louis have not occurred.

After serving as a Ravens consultant this season, Fassel might have to re-evaluate his chances of returning as a head coach next season.

The concern with hiring Fassel as coordinator is the length of his commitment. The Ravens would prefer not to have a one-year stopgap at coordinator, and Fassel likely would pursue a head coaching job next season.

Fassel, who spoke with Neuheisel at the Ravens' practice complex yesterday, could not be reached to comment. It's unknown whether Neuheisel would accept being the quarterbacks coach if Fassel is offered the coordinator position.

The Ravens had long targeted Ron Turner as their next offensive coordinator. Turner, however, chose to become the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator last weekend, forcing the Ravens to go in another direction.

Team officials interviewed New Orleans quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard and had interest in Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for their opening. But both don't appear to be options at this point.

Meanwhile, the Ravens named Chris Foerster as offensive line coach and assistant head coach. He replaces Jim Colletto, who was fired Monday.

Foerster was the Miami Dolphins' offensive coordinator this season but was not retained when Nick Saban was hired. He previously coached tight ends with the Indianapolis Colts (2002-2003) and the offensive line with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001).

His ties with Billick date back to the Minnesota Vikings and Stanford.

At his news conference yesterday, Foerster said he was surprised with the additional title of assistant head coach.

"In visiting with Brian when I came in here, that was not part of the deal," Foerster said. "That was something that he wanted to do. I think he wanted to maybe give me a little more clout within the offensive staff."

NOTES: Linebacker Ray Lewis recently underwent surgery on his wrist, and running back Jamal Lewis is scheduled to have surgery on his ankle. ... The shoes worn by safety Ed Reed when he set the NFL single-season mark for interception return yardage are on exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, along with the ball he picked off. Earlier in the season, the shoes Reed wore on a NFL-record 106-yard interception return against the Browns were donated to the Hall.

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