Despite the final results of 2007, in announcing the Ravens would seek a new coach, owner Steve Bisciotti left the definite impression that he feels his team is closer to the top of the NFL dog pile than it is the bottom.
"I believe we have the nucleus of a team that can get back to the Super Bowl," he said earlier this week.
If that's the case - if Bisciotti thinks success is right around the corner and not along the horizon - the Ravens might not have as many options in their coaching search as they're letting on. In fact, among the six-pack of candidates the search apparently has focused on, only a couple inspire the confidence they can take the current roster and produce immediate results.
For the most part, five of the six candidates feel like a gamble, while the sixth feels like a long shot. If the Ravens have illusions of instant success dancing in their heads, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher is the option that makes the most sense, and the Ravens should take a big Babe Ruth swing at him before turning to the well of unknown commodities.
There are plenty of reasons to think luring Cowher to the sideline of his longtime rival would be an impossible task. For starters, Cowher has told one team - the Atlanta Falcons - he's sitting out another year.
But coaches say things all the time. Remember Nick Saban? Bobby Petrino? In fact, it wasn't long ago a coach around here said he'd be back with the Ravens next season. People change their minds. Cowher might be thinking he doesn't want to coach next season, but it should be the Ravens' mission to change his mind.
The bigger obstacle could be money. Next season, Bisciotti will be paying millions of dollars to a group of men to not coach his team. Would he be willing to pay what it might take to get Cowher?
Cowher reportedly parted ways with the Steelers after talks of a contract extension broke down. Some say Cowher wanted to double his $4 million-a-year salary, which was more than the Steelers were willing to do. Might Bisciotti go that high, especially considering he's on the hook with Brian Billick for $15 million?
Bisciotti has done nothing but invest in this team since taking over. The cheapest thing Bisciotti could have done was honor Billick's contract and keep him. Bisciotti wants to win, though, and his short history as owner makes you think he'll spend what it takes.
The nucleus the owner thinks can return to the Super Bowl is both an asset and a hitch. The Ravens' coaching search isn't like the Falcons' and the Dolphins'. The Ravens have a group of strong-headed veterans returning next season, and they regard their experience as a badge of entitlement. A key reason for Billick's ouster is the need for discipline. A veteran coach, a no-nonsense type who has earned his stripes, is the best option. Why should anyone think Ray Lewis & Co. will respect and listen to someone whose resume might fit on the back of a postage stamp?
With Josh McDaniels, the Patriots' offensive wunderkind, declining to seek a head coaching job, the remaining candidates include a batch of men who've proved themselves as solid assistants or coordinators but are unknowns as head coaches - guys like Tony Sparano, the Dallas Cowboys assistant who's also receiving interest from Atlanta and Miami, and Jim Caldwell, who has had the difficult task of coaching Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Though Manning and Tony Dungy sing Caldwell's praises, teams are wary of candidates whose reputations hinge so strongly on one or two players.
Besides Cowher, Rex Ryan might the only other candidate who could step into the job and take off running. But the truth is Bisciotti is tired of the Ravens' offensive play and constant questions about the quarterback, and the Ravens' next head coach will be someone the team brass knows - not hopes - will install major changes.
So maybe Jason Garrett is a good candidate, right? After all, in one season as Cowboys' offensive coordinator, he has had more success grooming a quarterback than Billick managed in nine years. But that's still not enough seasoning for the task facing the next Ravens coach.
With an aging nucleus, the Ravens expect to be back in contention soon. Their unique group of returning players and personalities requires someone who can juggle egos as easily as plays. If this is the batch that's supposed to return this team to respectability, then a coach like Cowher is the most logical proposition on the table.