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Rex appeal

The Baltimore Sun

While most NFL followers are preoccupied with the playoffs that start today, Ravens fans are consumed by one thing. Who's going to be the next head coach in Baltimore?

In the blog that you see referenced on this page, "O, by the Way," we've been profiling some of the names that have been tossed around: the New England Patriots' Josh McDaniels (until he pulled himself out of contention), Dallas Cowboys' Jason Garrett and Indianapolis Colts' Jim Caldwell.

And yesterday, I ran the odds that were posted by the gambling Web site, Bodog (BodogLife.com) on who would be the next coach. The favorite among individual candidates was Caldwell (6-1 yesterday), but the field - meaning anyone other than the several candidates mentioned - was actually the chalk entry at 4-1.

Of course, the most familiar candidate around here is Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan (he was 7-1 in the Bodog odds).

Ryan's candidacy should be a strong one for a lot of reasons. In no particular order:

Ryan is familiar with the organizational culture at the Castle that puts general manager Ozzie Newsome firmly in charge of personnel.

He has kept the Ravens' defense competitive despite numerous setbacks because of injuries in 2005 and 2007, and he made it a dominant force in '06 when he had most of his guys most of the time.

He's respected by the players, and he's liked by the fans.

When I observe Ryan, I also have the advantage of seeing him within the context of his football pedigree. I covered his father, Buddy, in Philadelphia. And this much I can tell you about those two: As fierce a defense as Buddy fielded and as loyal as his players were to him, son Rex has more going for him. (Sorry, Buddy, if you read this, but it's a compliment to you as well.)

Rex is far more flexible and adapts to changing circumstances. I believe he listens more. At least, I gather that from his players. His schemes are more sophisticated and nuanced and not so vulnerable. And he is certainly much more politic - and that's hugely important in today's much more complex NFL.

Some fans who have written to me on the blog have voiced reservations about Rex Ryan either because they believe he can't be responsive to the team's offensive needs or because they contend he represents the status quo in a locker room that some fans think needs a swift kick in the pants.

But here is a reality: If the fans - or more importantly, if owner Steve Bisciotti and GM Newsome - believe this team is worth salvaging at all, if there is anything on which to build, the most immediate talent is on the defensive side. That means with Ryan in charge, the defense merely needs to get the depth chart deeper so that it withstands the injuries that depleted it at times this season. Ryan's hiring would also allow the Ravens to concentrate on retooling the offense with a more imaginative scheme and, one would hope, with an offensive line that will get considerably better with a year of maturity.

However, to lose Ryan would mean the Ravens and their fans could expect an overhaul on offense and defense.

This much is almost certainly true: If the Ravens can't retain Ryan either as a head coach or continuing as a defensive coordinator, the journey back to the playoffs starts several steps further removed from the finish line.


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