A game of risk

The Baltimore Sun

Rex Ryan should be hired as the Ravens' next coach before he gets away.

But before delving into the reasons it should happen, and the reasons it might not, here's a slight mea culpa. It was suggested in this space yesterday, in the wake of that wretched 5-11 season, that the Ravens players' insistence that the core of the roster was fine when it was healthy was a "Pollyannish" view.

In light of yesterday's firing of Brian Billick, maybe the players were onto something.

If the problem was that the Ravens didn't have enough talent, or had talent that wasn't performing up to its ability or salary or both, Billick would be in his office at the Castle today, sorting out offensive coordinator candidates and evaluating players.

Instead, Billick is out, and Steve Bisciotti made it clear yesterday, to the players and in his news conference, that as the owner, he has no problem with the talent, injured and healthy alike. "We believe that we will be better with fresh blood," he said, and he meant on the sideline, not between the lines.

Now, all Bisciotti has to do is find a coach who will do with this group what Billick could not, get out of it what Billick did not.

Bill Cowher could very well be that coach. But even with the track record Cowher would bring from 15 years in Pittsburgh, that doesn't mean he would automatically fit perfectly here.

There's no guarantee Ryan will be the answer, either. But rewarding him for the job he has done as defensive coordinator, giving him the chance to do for the whole team what he has done for the defense, makes too much sense.

If, in fact, firing Billick signals that the Ravens believe they don't have to blow everything up and start over, then bringing back Ryan signals that the solution was within the organization.

Ryan, in fact, was able to do this season what Billick -- besides being his boss and his counterpart as head of the offense -- couldn't: make the most out of a difficult situation.

It should bode well for his head coaching prospects that his unit buckled far less than it otherwise might have in the absence of, at various times and often simultaneously, his best pass-rushing defensive lineman (Trevor Pryce), his starting cornerbacks (Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle) and his defensive signal-caller (Ray Lewis).

Nobody ever openly questioned him in the process. No one got absorbed in his own agenda. Nobody pointed fingers. All those issues arose in connection with the offense, also depleted, but far more incapable of handling the adversity. We might never know whether the offense or many individual players could have been better, this season and throughout the Billick regime. But we always had the sense that one way or another, the defense was maxing out.

That credit belongs to Ryan. The players love him. They love him for the right reason -- they respect his ability as a technician, a teacher, a communicator and a coach.

How can he not be at least near the top of the Ravens' list?

There are reasons, sensible ones. His resume is nothing compared to Cowher's, for one thing, and apparently, since Bisciotti is eating Billick's entire contract extension, money is no object. Passing on a Super Bowl winner for a coach who has never held the top spot is risky.

The Ravens also have to go through a prescribed process, which includes interviewing minority candidates. Thank goodness for that, of course. While it seems contrary to champion Ryan, a "legacy" (son of Buddy), over candidates who historically get passed over -- ex-Ravens assistant Mike Singletary, for example, is in great position to be yanked around for the next several years with token interviews -- it's no less unfair to keep passing over Ryan. By all rights, he should be coaching the San Diego Chargers into the playoffs right now anyway, instead of career loser/retread Norv Turner.

Ryan isn't going to slip through the cracks this offseason.

This is where Bisciotti must prove he means it when he says he takes risks, goes with his gut and lives with the consequences. For the reasons above, Ryan is a risk. But Bisciotti's gut should tell him that Ryan is exactly what the Ravens need.

The fact that it's what Ryan deserves is just icing on the cake.


Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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