Experience not preferred?

The Baltimore Sun

The theme at the Castle in Owings Mills, as of late yesterday, was: Next!

The Ravens faithful should consider that a good thing. No crying, no frustration, no fears that, because Jason Garrett was allowed to leave the building without a signed deal to be the next head coach, the Ravens are mimicking their baseball counterparts, who got the brushoff from Joe Girardi seven months earlier.

That didn't turn out all that badly, anyway. At worst, the verdict's still out on the Orioles' Dave Trembley, and it's out big-time on Girardi's readiness for the gig he eventually took, managing the New York Yankees.

But you know what? The verdict's still out on Garrett, too, at least as the right coach for this team - as well as deserving of the hype he has gotten as the next bright, young NFL head coach right now.

So nobody, within the Ravens and elsewhere, ought to panic if the worst-case scenario on Garrett comes true - if he gets lured back to the Dallas Cowboys by Jerry Jones' money or the prospect of being next in line for Wade Phillips' job, or even if he throws everybody a curve and falls for yesterday's offer from the Atlanta Falcons.

In fact, answering the call of "Next!" apparently is a candidate who is roughly the same age as Garrett (45, to Garrett's 41) and also has no head coaching jobs on his resume - but brings loads more experience in the league and, by most accounts, more of certain intangibles that mesh with the Ravens' present needs. If John Harbaugh is indeed Plan B, and he lives up to the impression he seems to have made here, he wouldn't be the first to pan out more successfully than Plan A might have.

Still, anointing two coaches so lacking in experience as 1 and 1-A tells us more than we had suspected about what the Ravens have in mind for next season and the next few. It definitely doesn't appear to be maintaining the status quo or wringing one last title run out of the players on hand. If it were, this search would be going in a totally different direction.

Regardless of the love the entire league is showering upon Garrett these days, it has never been clear why he has been considered such a good fit for the Ravens. On the day Brian Billick was fired, Steve Bisciotti made it clear he didn't think the overall talent was the problem. If that's true, then you give preference to coaches with more experience than Garrett, who not only has never been a head coach, but also hasn't even been an NFL assistant very long.

This new window could have let in candidates who can accentuate the best of this group and deal with the worst of it. Whether it is Garrett or Harbaugh who gets the job, the Ravens either see something in their youth that they don't see in others' experience, or they don't put as much of a priority on these things as you would think they would.

If experience were a priority, Rex Ryan would still be in the running here. If it were a priority, Marty Schottenheimer would have gotten beyond the phone-call stage. Jim Caldwell would have gotten the Castle tour before Garrett did.

And there wouldn't be signals coming from Owings Mills that even more of an upheaval than a new head coach is on the horizon. Ryan's apparent dismissal as a serious candidate indicates that Billick not only cost himself his job but also left a taint on his coordinator. Ryan comes off as part of the problem instead of part of the solution. That's too bad. There's an excellent chance there will be more regret about letting Ryan, the potential head coach, get away than there would be about letting Garrett get his first big shot with another team.

The signs are that the Ravens are making a clean break with the past, the immediate past. If they're making that break, they're not going to stop at the head coach and his staff. The players who got the verbal thumbs-up from Bisciotti 2 1/2 weeks ago might want to keep that in mind, starting now.

It appears now that if Garrett does get away, Harbaugh would have to take a pass as well for the Ravens to start over with different criteria. That means no second looks at Caldwell (who might get a first look from his own team, should Tony Dungy retire from the Indianapolis Colts). No first official look at Schottenheimer, either, whose appeal in this situation is obvious. No opening of the door to other candidates who didn't make the first wave, older or younger, experienced or not.

But the Ravens do get to make a clear statement about what kind of coach they want, and what kind of team they want to be.

The next statement worth hearing from them is why.


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

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