Something old, something new is perfect marriage for offense

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE RAVENS NEED a perfect world, which would be for Jim Fassel to become offensive coordinator and Rick Neuheisel to become quarterbacks coach. The old needs to be there to greet the new.

It would be a great scenario for a team with numerous offensive problems, but one that at least has a young quarterback. No one knows how much Kyle Boller will develop, but his progress will be slowed if the Ravens bring in someone other than Fassel.

Word has leaked that Neuheisel has become the front-runner over Fassel and New Orleans Saints quarterback coach Mike Sheppard, but it's a smoke screen. This job is Fassel's to take or turn down. The Ravens are putting pressure on Fassel to become a head coach elsewhere or take their offensive coordinator's job. If neither happens, the Ravens are prepared to move on with Neuheisel, though Sheppard would be a better coordinator.

But more about that later.

Let's stick with Fassel for now. The Ravens have been lobbying for him to become a head coach since he became their offensive consultant last year. Big Jim got more face time on the sideline at national TV games in 2004 than Ray Lewis did.

But for some reason, he has become unemployable as a head coach. He didn't get the job in Arizona, Chicago or Washington last year. As of last night, he couldn't even get an interview in Cleveland, of all places, or San Francisco, where he has roots.

The Ravens have given him ample time, but it's time to move on. Either Fassel is in, or he's out. The Ravens would love for Fassel to return. He knows their personnel and has a relationship with the players. His personality is strong enough where he could say no to Billick.

More importantly, he has a comfort zone with Boller.

Regardless of all the mediocre play at the position, the NFL remains a quarterback-driven league. Fassel knows Boller's strengths and weaknesses. He knows the terminology. The Ravens could pick up where they left off with Boller this season.

And then if Neuheisel joins as quarterbacks coach, he would bring the experience of having tutored players like Troy Aikman and Kordell Stewart (all right, we'll forgive him for that one). He'd also give the Ravens fresh ideas and approaches. Talk about an explosive coaches' room. There wouldn't be enough space for the heads of Neuheisel, Billick and Fassel.

But that's fine, because creativity has been missing.

It's perfect.

If Fassel doesn't take the Ravens' job, it should go to Sheppard, with Neuheisel as the quarterbacks coach. It's risky when a coordinator comes from the college ranks instead of the NFL.

Sheppard would get instant respect having been in the league since 1993. He is familiar with the West Coast offense, having worked with Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren in Seattle. Sheppard has experience working with quarterbacks and as an offensive coordinator. He called plays in Baltimore under former Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda when they had one of the NFL's best offenses.

Sheppard knows the league and certainly the AFC North. He already has gone against Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, and there might not be anybody who knows Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis better than Sheppard, who was the head coach at New Mexico while Lewis was an assistant.

Again, you get the old (Sheppard) with the new (Neuheisel).

But it's easy to see why the Ravens like Neuheisel. He changed the University of Washington from a running team to a passing team mainly operating out of the one-back, three-receiver set.

But with college coaches, there is always a longer transition period compared to coaches who have been in the NFL. College coaches have to earn players' respect. The college game, in general, relies more on schemes compared to the NFL, which is geared more toward knowing the personnel from both teams and creating mismatches. The pro game is faster and more sophisticated.

What Billick may have to ask himself is how long of an adjustment period does he have after a season in which his team underachieved?

The Ravens need the perfect scenario to take place. They've already lost a quality coach in offensive line coach Jim Colletto, and might lose another in running backs coach Matt Simon. Both were unhappy about not getting an opportunity to become the team's offensive coordinator. Both deserved better.

It's been a tough offseason for the Ravens so far. Nearly a month ago, Billick was telling people around the league that former Illinois coach Ron Turner was going to be his next offensive coordinator. He went to the Bears. Oops.

The Ravens wanted a shot at Minnesota offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, but they can't interview him until the Vikings' season is over. They've lost a top administrator (Phil Savage) to the Browns and could be losing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to the Browns or 49ers.

The law of averages says something has to go right. It might start with Fassel or Sheppard becoming the offensive coordinator.

Closing in on a new offensive coordinator

Rick Neuheisel

Ex-college head coach is considered the front-runner for the job, but he has been out of football since June 2003. Jim Fassel

With his options for an NFL head coaching job limited, the Ravens' senior offensive consultant might stay put.

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