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The search begins

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' search committee engaged in an all-day meeting yesterday to discuss potential coaching candidates.

While team officials aren't about to mention possible successors to Brian Billick, they do have one prediction.

"I think that any potential head coach that looks at Ozzie Newsome's history of drafting Pro Bowl players and sees the Pro Bowlers [already on the team] ... will put us on top of their list," said owner Steve Bisciotti, who will meet with the search committee again this morning.

That theory could be tested over the next month.

There are rumblings that the Ravens are looking strongly at Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who might be at the most-wanted assistant this offseason.

The Atlanta Falcons, the only other team without a head coach, have received permission to speak with Garrett, but he has not agreed to an interview. The Ravens haven't made requests to talk to coaches, but they plan to do so by today.

According to NFL rules, teams can interview assistant coaches on playoff teams only during their bye week, which ends Saturday. If those coaches make it to the Super Bowl, teams can interview them again between the week of the conference championship game and the Super Bowl.

Another rising assistant who could be affected by those rules is New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

"I have one job here, and that's to have a leader that I think gives us the best chance to win," Bisciotti said. "I said to my wife [Sunday] night that there's a Hall of Fame coach out there, and it's our job to find him."

Also expected to be high on the Ravens' list is Rex Ryan, their defensive coordinator for the past three seasons.

If the Ravens decide to go after a veteran coach, the two most prominent names are Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Just 11 days ago, Schottenheimer told The San Diego Union-Tribune that he probably wouldn't return to coaching unless an intriguing job became available. Schottenheimer was fired by the San Diego Chargers in February after he failed to win a playoff game with a 14-2 team.

Schottenheimer did not return phone calls from The Sun yesterday.

Cowher said last month that he wasn't interested in the Falcons' vacancy and didn't want to coach next season. But there were rumors throughout the season that Bisciotti had met with Cowher.

Without being asked about Cowher, Bisciotti addressed the speculation concerning the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach.

"I have never met Bill Cowher," he said. "If I shook his hand one time five years ago at an NFL meeting, I don't remember it. But I did not talk with him, and I did not look for candidates. I have not spent one minute thinking about Brian's replacement. That's not something that I'm qualified to do without Ozzie's lead. So, that process starts now."

Selecting a new coach might be the Ravens' biggest change this offseason.

They have 21 of 22 starters under contract and aren't expected to let linebacker Terrell Suggs hit the free-agent market. (The sides could be getting close to a long-term deal.)

But Newsome said the Ravens' new coach will have a say in the look of next season's team, including the future of quarterback Steve McNair.

"First of all, it's going to be important that we get the new coach, we get the new staff, and we let them evaluate the football team," Newsome said. "That's going to be first and foremost before we start to make any decisions about who is going to be on our team in 2008."

Notes -- According to Maryland's Judiciary Web site, backup safety Gerome Sapp was arrested on second-degree assault charges Saturday after getting into an altercation with former teammate Joe Maese. His court date is set for Feb 8. A Ravens spokesman disputed the report, saying Sapp was never arrested. ... Citing a Ravens source, Sports Illustrated's Web site reported that the Ravens are obligated to pay only $5 million to Billick. He has three years left on his contract that would pay him a total of $15 million, but only $5 million is guaranteed, the Web site said. The other $10 million is a club option. Bisciotti addressed Billick's contract by saying: "His contract will be paid. He's building that farm on the Eastern Shore, and he told me that he is wealthy enough to treat me to dinner over there when the house is done." ... When the Ravens fired Billick, they dismissed his entire coaching staff. But every assistant has one year left on his contract, which will be honored by the team.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

RANKING POSSIBLE CANDIDATES

How The Sun projects the Ravens' coaching search:

1. Jason Garrett: Cowboys offensive coordinator. There are rumblings that he is the Ravens' target.

2. Bill Cowher: Former Steelers coach. Landing "The Chin" would make the biggest splash, but he has said he doesn't want to coach in 2008.

3. Rex Ryan: Former Ravens defensive coordinator. There's no question that the players would fight for him.

4. Marty Schottenheimer: Former Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers coach. The safest bet because of his track record of success.

5. Kirk Ferentz: University of Iowa coach. Has strong link to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome but has declined other enticing offers to leave.

6. Mike Singletary: 49ers assistant head coach/defense. Considered one of the best motivators in the coaching ranks.

7. Josh McDaniels: Patriots offensive coordinator. Another fast-rising prospect. Age (31) could be a concern.

8. Steve Mariucci: Former 49ers and Lions coach. Like Brian Billick, he would be an articulate voice of the franchise.

9. Jim Caldwell: Colts assistant head coach/quarterbacks. Smart and underrated assistant who has become Tony Dungy's confidant.

10. Jim Schwartz: Titans defensive coordinator. Baltimore native finished second to Mike Nolan for 49ers job in 2005.

JAMISON HENSLEY

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